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Free Online Summary Notes for The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
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The conflict of a plot is the major problem experienced by the protagonist. In The Secret Life of Bees Lily must learn about her dead mother in order to understand her own life.


The protagonist of a story is the main character who traditionally undergoes some sort of change. He or she must usually overcome some opposing force. In this story, Lily must overcome the oppressive force of her father, T. Ray--a cruel man who blames Lily for her mother’s death. In order to discover who she is, Lily must leave T. Ray and learn more about her mother.


The antagonist of a story is the force that provides an obstacle for the protagonist. In this novel, T. Ray makes Lily believe she is worthless. He also makes Lily believe that she killed her mother.


The climax of a plot is the major turning point that allows the protagonist to resolve the conflict. The climax of The Secret Life of Bees is when Lily finally confronts T. Ray and learns that she shot her mother.


The outcome, resolution, or denouement occurs in the final chapters when Lily figures out who she is aside from a girl with a dead mother. She removes the toxic force of T. Ray from her life and decides to live permanently with August.


Fourteen-year-old Lily Owens lives on a peach farm with her father, T. Ray. Lily’s mother, Deborah, died in a mysterious accident involving a gun when Lily was four-years old. Since then, Lily thinks about her mother constantly and wishes she were there to take her away from T. Ray, who is cruel and distant.

Rosaleen, an African-American woman, is the family’s housekeeper and a mother-figure for Lily. One day Rosaleen and Lily go to town so Rosaleen can register to vote. In town a group of white men taunt Rosaleen and she spills the contents of her snuff jar on their feet. The men beat Rosaleen until the police come and take Rosaleen to jail. At the jail, the men beat her some more. T. Ray comes to the jail to take Lily home. Back on the farm, Lily and T. Ray get into an argument, in which he tells Lily that Deborah was going to leave her when she died. Lily gets so angry that she runs away. Lily frees Rosaleen from the hospital, where she was sent after her second beating. Rosaleen and Lily go to Tiburon, South Carolina because Deborah had a picture of a black Madonna on the back of which she wrote “Tiburon, SC.” Lily figures this town must have been important to Deborah. In a store, Lily sees jars of honey with pictures of the same black Madonna as their labels. Lily asks the storekeeper where the honey comes from. He tells her that a woman named August Boatwright makes the honey and that she lives in a bright pink house.

Lily and Rosaleen find the pink house and knock on the door. Inside, they find three African-American sisters--August, June and May. Lily tells them that she is passing through town on the way to her aunt’s house. She tells the sisters that she is an orphan. August tells Lily and Rosaleen that they are welcome to stay for now. She says that Lily can help her with the honey business and Rosaleen can help May with the house work. May is very emotional and often cries so hard that she must go to her wailing wall in the backyard--a wall in which she places prayers for all the things that sadden her. June is not happy about having Lily stay with them because she is white. When Lily overhears June saying that she dislikes her because of her skin color, Lily realizes how absurd racism is.

The sisters practice a religion they have created themselves and share with a group called The Daughters of Mary. The women pray to a statue of a black Mary that they call Our Lady of Chains.

During her time in the pink house, Lily comes to practice this religion with the women. She loves these women and life in the pink house. Lily comes to feel accepted by the black women. Even June befriends her, eventually. She falls in love with August’s helper, Zach. Zach is an African-American boy, which complicates Lily’s feelings for him. One day, one of Zach’s friends throws a bottle at a white man. Because none of the boys will admit who threw the bottle, they all go to jail. The women try to keep Zach’s imprisonment a secret from May, for whom it would be too much to handle. However, May finds out from a phone call that Zach is in jail and is unable to deal with it. May commits suicide by drowning herself in the river.

May’s friends and family are devastated by her death. Some good things come out of it, however. June decides to marry Neil--a man she has dated for years but always refused to marry because she was hurt once by someone else. Eventually life returns to normal in the pink house and Lily thinks about how she will have to tell August the truth soon. In the meantime, Lily and Zach kiss and he promises they will be together one day. Eventually Lily tells August who she really is. It turns out that August already knew, because she knew Lily’s mother. August worked for Deborah’s family when Deborah was a child. Years later, after Lily was born, Deborah left T. Ray and came to stay with August. August said Deborah was going back to get Lily and then she was going to divorce T. Ray. When she went home, she died. Lily is outraged and saddened to learn that Deborah left her with T. Ray. August tries to explain that Deborah was depressed and not thinking clearly, but Lily cannot forgive her.

One day, Lily is home alone and T. Ray comes to the door. He found out where she was because she called him collect once. T. Ray went to the place she called from and a woman told him where she was. T. Ray demands that Lily come home with him. When T. Ray notices the pin Lily is wearing--a pin he gave Deborah--Lily explains that Deborah came to the pink house when she left him. T. Ray goes into a rage and beats Lily, all the while calling her Deborah. August and Rosaleen return to the house. August tells T. Ray that Lily can stay with her and that she loves Lily. T. Ray agrees and leaves. Lily chases his car and asks him if she was responsible for her mother’s death. T. Ray says it was an accident, but Lily killed her.

Lily finally learns to forgive her mother and herself. She is happy living with August. She goes to school with Zach. Lily learns the importance of female communities and that women can be mothers to each other.

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