The Secret Life of Bees takes place in the 1960s and follows the incredible and emotional journey of fourteen-year old Lily Owens, a white girl living in Sylvan, South Carolina. Lily lives alone with her father, T-Ray, and her African-American housekeeper, Rosaleen. Growing up with an abusive father and a dead mother she barely knew, Lily often feels alone in this world and worthless.
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The story opens up with Lily looking back on the day her mother died. Lily’s mother, Deborah, had left T-Ray when Lily was only a couple years old, but later came back to retrieve her daughter. T-Ray and Deborah started to fight, which quickly became physical. Mrs. Owens pulled out a gun and accidentally dropped it by Lily, who picked it up and attempted to shoot her father to protect her mother. The bullet missed and hit Deborah, killing her instantly. Lily mentions her constant feeling of responsibility for this horrific event, which T-Ray takes advantage of and uses against her as a way to torture her. A couple days after Lily recalls this event, her and Rosaleen were walking through town when Rosaleen was attacked by a group of racist men. Both Rosaleen and Lily were brought to jail, but T-Ray came and bailed only Lily out, leaving Rosaleen behind. Fearing the men would go back to the jail to kill the only person Lily actually cared about, she came up with a plan to break Rosaleen out. While coming up with this plan, T-Ray came into Lily’s room and started verbally abusing her. Lily tried to stand up for herself, which T-Ray laughed off and went back to using the story of her responsibility for Deborah’s death to emotionally abuse Lily.
After he went away, Lily came to the conclusion that the only way she could be happy and truly understand her mother was if she ran away with Rosaleen. After Rosaleen and Lily both successfully escaped, the two started towards Tiburon, South Carolina. Lily had found a picture of black Mary with “Tiburon, South Carolina” printed on the back in some of her mother’s belongings. Lily took this as a sign that the only way for her to truly connect with her mother was to go to this place. On the journey there, Lily and Rosaleen come across a store with jars of honey in the window with the same black Mary picture on them. When they asked the store keeper where the jars were from, the man told the women that a local beekeeper by the name of August Boatwright had made the honey. Rosaleen and Lily went to her house where they discovered August and her two sisters, who were more than willing to let the women stay with them. Lily and Rosaleen lied to the sisters about their identities out of fear of August or someone else calling Mr.
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