illustration of the back of main character Lily Owens's head with a honeycomb background

The Secret Life of Bees

by Sue Monk Kidd
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What does Lily do with her mother's things in The Secret Life of Bees?  

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When The Secret Life of Bees first opens, Lily sets the tone for the abusive parenting she lives under through the torment of her father. One night when she thinks it's late enough, she sneaks out to the orchard to find the tin box that holds her mother's belongings: white gloves, a photograph wrapped in wax paper, and a wooden picture of Mary with a dark face.

These items bring her comfort as a loving reminder of her mother that stands in sharp contrast to the abuse of her father. She relaxes with these precious items and falls asleep, waking to hear T. Ray thrashing through the orchard in search of her. She jams the photo and the pictures in her waistband just before he gets there and then hides them under her mattress after enduring one of his favorite punishments: kneeling on grits for extended periods of time.

When she decides to leave T. Ray and his abuse, she takes her beloved reminders of her mother with her.

Near the end of the novel, August comes to Lily with some things she has kept belonging to Lily's mother and shares them with her: a pocket mirror, a hairbrush, a gold pin shaped like a whale, a book of poetry, and a photo of Lily and her mother together. Lily finds the last item the most meaningful: "I didn't care about anything on this earth except the way her face was tipped toward mine, our noses just touching, how wide and gorgeous her smile was . . . She had rubbed her nose against mine and poured her light on my face" (chapter 13).

When Lily settles in to her new bedroom in the end, she keeps her mother's treasures on a special shelf in her room. She comments that "the feeling that they are holy objects is already starting to wear off." In her acceptance of her loss of her mother and even of T. Ray, Lily is finding that family can be found in unexpected places, and she forges ahead into a future that includes living people who love, protect, and encourage her.

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Lily has very few things from her mother, a photograph of her, a pair of white cotton gloves that are darkening with age, and a small picture of a black Mary, glued onto a small block of wood, with Tiburon, S.C. written on the back of it.  She has placed these items in a tin box, and she has buried the box out in the peach orchard, a "special place" (14) that no one else knows about.  She visits her special place from time to time and unearths the box. She puts on the gloves and examines the photograph and the picture of the black Mary, thinking about her mother, wondering about her, and missing her terribly.  One night, she sneaks out to do this and falls asleep in the orchard.  Her father, T. Ray, finds her there and accuses her of sneaking out to meet a boy. He punishes her when they get back by making her kneel on grits, which are very painful to kneel on. And it is a terrible punishment, particularly for someone who was just trying to conjure up her lost mother.

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