In The Secret Life of Bees, why does the mother wiping her daughter's nose catch Lily's attention?Chapter 3
When Lily sees the mother wiping her daughter's nose, the act catches her attention because it is the embodiment of the love that she seeks for herself. As a motherless child, she sorely misses the unconditional love that would cause a mother to unthinkingly do something as disagreeable and elemental as wiping her child's nose, and seeing the mother and daughter in the store intensifies her longing for connection with her own mother, who is dead.
Lily has just noticed a picture of a black Mary on a jar of honey. Her own mother had had one just like it, and seeing the picture brings back painful memories of her. Just at that moment, the door of the store opens, and a family comes in, "fresh from church." The mother and daughter are "dressed alike in navy with white Peter Pan collars," and when the daughter sneezes, the mother, in a very maternal reaction, gently tells her, "Come here, let's wipe your nose." The mother and daughter, in appearance and in action, are a stark representation of all Lily yearns for. The longing that the scene, coupled with the picture of the black Mary, evokes in Lily makes it hard for her to breathe (Chapter 3).