In the novel “The Secret Lives of Bees” Lilly Melissa Owen, the narrator spends a considerable portion of the book describing events that occurred during the summer that she attained the age of fourteen years. At the beginning of the story she is unpopular and as a result, lonely living in Sylvan, South Carolina. Lilly is generally unhappy at home as her father T. Ray is neglectful despite the fact that her mother died when she four years old. Aside from her neglected father, Lily is friends with Rosaleen, the women who take care of her; nonetheless, she still yearns for her mother. It is later revealed that Lilly accidentally contributed to the death of her mother as she fired a gun she found of the floor during a confrontation between her parents. Lily may not remember the incident but, the guilt still haunts as she dearly misses her mother. On her fourteenth birthday, Lily decided to join Rosaleen as she went to town. On arrival, Rosaleen is involved in verbal abuse with some white men at the gas station. The exchange of words rapidly turns physical prompting the police to be called. Rosaleen is arrested and charged with numerous crimes; she and Lily are hauled to jail. T.Ray comes for his daughter, but Rosaleen is not released. It is at this point that T.Ray and his daughter Lily get into an argument where it is revealed that Lily’s mother had abandoned the family before her demise; the information came as a surprise as Lily had never heard of the allegations before. Lily does not believe her father and assumes that her father told her the story in a bid to hurt her and it is at this point that Lily decides to bust Rosaleen out of jail as well as run away. Lily is successful in sneaking Rosaleen out of jail, and she decides that they should travel to Tiburon, a location written at the back of a picture that had belonged to her late mother. The film was indeed unique as it had an image of a black Madonna. On arrival to Tiburon, Lily is able to locate August Boatwright, a beekeeper who also produced honey. Lily and Roseleen go to August’s home where they encounter May and June, August’s sisters who invite them to stay. August puts her two guests to work, Rosaleen in the house and Lily with the bees. As time passes on Lily interact with August’s sisters and learns about traditions, religions, and rituals. Later on, Lily befriends Zach, August’s assistant as the two develop intimate feelings towards each other it becomes apparent that race is an issue as Zach was black. The dangerous post-civil rights act become more apparent to Lilly when Zach is arrested during a struggle between white men and his friends at a local theater. Zach’s arrest devastates May who commits suicide and Zach is released after that. Eventually Lily gathers the courage to inquire about August’s relationship with her mother, and it is at this point that her father’s accusations are revealed as the truth. T. Ray eventually tracks down his daughter and threatens to take her home by Lilly and August convince him to let her stay. August as a beekeeper in Tiburon South Carolina and was Lily’s mother’s housekeeper. August is an essential character in the novel, having been Deborah’s housekeeper, has a lot of information about Lily’s mother. Besides, Lily eventually ends up in the care of August even though she was an African American woman during the Post-civil rights act.
Character Analysis: August Boatwright
August was initially from Richmond Virginia before relocating to Tiburon, South Carolina. In Richmond, August worked as a housekeeper for Deborah. It is in Richmond that August pursued a degree at a teacher’s college and later taught history for close to six years up North. On ending her teaching career, she decided to relocate to Tiburon to start her beekeeping and honey business. August is a unique character as she is a successful businesswoman despite being an African American woman. During the post-Civil rights Act period, the majority of African American people were not educated and had been cast aside as inferior members of the society. August’s character plays a critical role in breaking the stereotypes of African American women in the South during the period. It is apparent that August is smart and educated. Despite being a housekeeper, she has been able to rise to a successful businesswoman. August was able to graduate from college at a time when hostilities towards African American people were rife. Her education has enabled her to set herself aside from members of society as she was able to teach high school. It is apparent that Lily is amazed by August as she asserts that she has never seen a “black woman” like August in the world. The image that Lily had of African American women was that of housekeepers. So when she encountered August, she is taken aback by her intelligence and accomplishments. Lily would never have imagined that a woman who used to be her mother’s housekeeper would be educated at that level furthermore own and run a business.
August is portrayed as an independent woman in various aspects. Firstly, August is not married and does not desire to be married as she perceives marriage as an abyss to her independence. August as her mind and makes decisions for herself, and most importantly she does not submit to social norms. Her arguments on marriage and the purpose of marriage are a clear indication that August is not a pushover and that she does not give in to pressure from the society to live a life that does not make her happy. Secondly, August is control of her life, and she is determined to change her life and live a more meaningful life and not succumb to limitations placed on African American Women at the period. August decided to pursue education while as a housekeeper and through determination she was able to succeed and even graduate from college. On completion of her studies, she taught in high school over some time and late relocated to start her own business. August takes charge and does not fancy employment and has dedicated herself to ensuring the success of her business. Thirdly, August does not depend on others or a husband to care and provide for her. Since she is not married, August has her own house and though her business she has been able to purchase multiple properties.
August is a loving, caring and kind person and when she meets Lily she does not rush to tell her about her mother neither does she reveal who she is. When Lily and Rosaleen go to Tiburon, August takes them in and offers them a job. August is unaware of Lily’s motives but still takes her and Rosleen in. During the Post-civil rights act period; tensions between whites and blacks were prominent, resulting in much distrust. August did not view Lily as a white child but merely as a child who needed a home. Thus August offered advice, love, affection, and comfort for the young girl. When Lily finally got the courage to tell August of her intentions and ask her about her mother. August was calm, and despite the information circulating, August told Lily the truth in a sensitive and caring manner. August was careful not to wound the child’s heart any further. Besides, when Lily’s father came to take her home, August convinced T.Ray to let Lily stay with her. August took responsibility for a white child despite the tensions between the communities. Also, August took responsibility for a child that was not hers. August was willing to incur the expense and trouble of caring for a young girl. August treated people with respect and was not judgmental.
In conclusion, it is apparent that August Boatwright was an integral character in the novel “The secret lives of Bees.” It is August who asserts the truth about Lily’s mother, and it is also August who cares who Lily after Lily sending years being sad and guilty about her mother’s death. August’s character is unique as it is the opposite of what African American Women were portrayed to be at Post Civil rights act period. August is educated, independent as well a compassionate thus enabling her to transform Lily’s life.
Facklam, M. (2001). What’s the buzz?: The secret lives of bees. Austin, TX: Raintree Steck-Vaughn.