The Secret Life of Bees

Bailee Arfele

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk takes place in post-civil rights movement South Carolina in 1964, although published in 2002. It follows Lily Owens, a strong willed 14-year-old girl who lives under the care of her abusive father, T-Ray and her nanny, Rosaleen. The novel is Lily’s coming of age story as she and Rosaleen run away from T-Ray’s abusive reign and the still prominent racial beliefs of the people of Sylvan in search of information of Lily’s birth mother, whom Lily accidentally shot and killed when she was a toddler. Although motherless since she was 3, Lily has accumulated multiple mother figures. Rosaleen, August Boatwright, and The Daughter’s of Mary all show different aspects of a maternal figure to Lily.
The Secret Life of Bees Trailer

'' . . . Big Mama kept bees, too, right out there in the same spot they're in today. Nobody around here had ever seen a lady beekeeper till her. She liked to tell everybody that women made the best beekeepers, 'cause they have a special ability built into them to love creatures that sting. 'It comes from years of loving children and husbands,' she'd say'"

“You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still have to find this part of ourselves inside”


Rosaleen has taken care of Lily since her mother passed away. Lily’s father called her in from picking peaches on their family farm to take care of Lily. Rosaleen is a poorly educated, middle-aged African American who is forthright and loves Lily fiercely. Although she and Lily can both be stubborn and immature, Rosaleen’s lack of a filter is sometimes the blunt voice of reason that Lily needs. Rosaleen is not concerned with manners or politeness, but rather prefers getting straight to the point and figuring out issues. Despite Rosaleen having no connections to the town, She accompanies Lily on her adventure to Tibourn, South Carolina to find out more about Lily’s mother. Rosaleen teaches Lily about loyalty and how to care for someone deeply, under any circumstance.

August Boatwright

After finding “Tibourn, South Carolina” written on some of her mother’s old possessions, she decides to go to the town to see if she can figure out more about her and her life. Lily meets August Boatwright in Tibourn, South Carolina. This search eventually leads to the Boatright house, where three middle aged African American women, August, June, and May, who own a honey bee plantation. August is the maternal voice within the household. She is level-headed and self-sacrificial. Lily desperately craves August’s approval and August willingly gives it. August is quick to challenge Lily and show her grace as well as tough love. Lily holds August in a high regard and respects her ability to sort out messy situations and put situations in their proper perspective.

The Daughters of Mary

While in Tibourn, Lily also meets the Daughters of Mary, a group of African American women who have created their own religion around a statue which they claim to have the spirit of Mary inside of it. Their religion is all about empowering the women and they are fiercely devoted to it. Although Lily, a 14 year old white girl, could not be more opposite of the women, they welcome her in and teach her all about the empowerment that comes from Mary and ultimately encourage her to find that empowerment within herself. They are protective over Lily and treat as if she is no different than any of them.


Although Lily lacks the presence of her biological mother, she is surrounded by women who teach her the fundamental lessons we learn from our moms; how to love people well, the importance of self-empowerment, and how to forgive others as well as yourself.