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Free Online Summary Notes for The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
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The novel is set in South Carolina during the turbulent time frame of 1964. The civil rights movement is well underway. The author draws from many of her own memories of this time and the profound emotional and political turmoil associated with the civil rights movement and the racial tension of the period.


Major Characters

Lily Melissa Owens

Fourteen-year-old Lily Owens is the main character and protagonist of this novel. Lily has lived alone with her cruel father since her mother’s mysterious death ten years ago. Lily’s black housekeeper and mother-figure, Rosaleen, is unfairly jailed for defending herself against racist, white men. Lily helps her escape and brings Rosaleen on a journey, in which Lily tries to learn about her mother.

Minor Characters


Rosaleen becomes the Owens family’s housekeeper after Lily’s mother dies. She is a large, African-American woman who is not certain of her age. Rosaleen becomes like a mother to Lily.

T. Ray Owens

T. Ray is Lily’s father, whom she calls “T. Ray.” He is the novel’s antagonist, or the force that provides an obstacle for the protagonist. T. Ray is a cruel man who pays little attention to Lily aside from yelling at her and disciplining her harshly. T. Ray makes Lily’s life miserable and will not tell her anything about her mother except that Lily was responsible for her death.

Deborah Owens

Deborah is Lily’s mother, who died when Lily was only four years old. Lily thinks about her mother everyday and must learn more about her in order to develop her own identity. When Lily moves in with the Boatwright sisters, she learns that he mother was not who Lily wanted her to be.

Mrs. Henry

Mrs. Henry is Lily’s teacher who tells her that she is very smart. Mrs. Henry tells Lily that she is too intelligent to go to beauty school and that she could write books if she wanted to.

August Boatwright

August is a beekeeper who lives in a bright pink house in Tiburon, SC. She is an African-American woman and sells Black Madonna Honey. She and her sisters, May and June, let Lily and Rosaleen stay with them.

May Boatwright

May is August’s very emotional sister. May’s twin sister, April, killed herself when she was fifteen years old. Since then, May is prone to emotional break-downs and spends a lot of time at her “wailing wall.” When May finds out that Zach is in jail, she kills herself.

June Boatwright

June is August’s other sister, who is not happy to have Lily staying in their house. June is rude to Lily until the day that Lily wets her with the sprinkler that she, May, August and Rosaleen are playing in. June finally accepts Lily, even though she is white.


Zach works for August. Zach is African American and Lily develops a crush on him, even though Zach tells her that nothing can happen between them. Zach goes to jail for a short time when he will not admit which of his friends was involved in an altercation with some white men. Eventually Zach is released and gives Lily her first kiss.


Neil loves June and asks her to marry him constantly. June always turns Neil down, until after May dies.

Queenie, Violet, Lunelle, Mabalee and Cressie

These women are all a part of the religious devotions to the Black Madonna. They are a constant presence in the Boatwright home and incorporate Lily into their community.

Otis and Sugar Girl

Otis and Sugar Girl also take part in the devotions to the Black Madonna. They are married to each other.

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