Secret Life of Bees

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Central Characters

Lily Melissa Owens

Lily is a fourteen-year-old girl whose mother died when she was four years old, an accident that Lily feels she was responsible for. She dresses in clothes she made in home economics. She is not a popular person in school. She has jet-black hair that resembles a nest of cowlicks, no chin, Sophia Loren eyes and an inferiority complex. She takes to picking scabs on her body and biting the flesh around her fingernails until they bleed. Boys, even the hard-up ones, ignore her. Rosaleen makes Lily wear breeches in the cold, which are neither fashionable nor complimentary, especially under her dresses. Girls become quiet when she walks past, because she has no fashion sense and is a little bit strange. Lily likes to daydream that Rosaleen is her mother and that the two of them share a bond. She finds a photo of the mother in the attic and often compares it with her eighth-grade picture. She notes that her mother had the same chin and looked very similar to her, though she was much prettier. Lily takes this to mean that she to may grow to be more beautiful than she is at present. Lily sells peaches at the roadside stall in the summer. She loves reading and excels in school, with high verbal and math aptitudes. She enjoys Shakespeare and loves Thoreau, but she feels beauty school would be appropriate for her future until Mrs. Henry corrects her. Mrs. Henry tells Lily that she is far too intelligent for such a thing. Lily begins to loathe being asked what she plans to be when she grows up. With Mrs. Henry's encouragement, she plans to be a professor and a writer of books. Lily keeps a collection of everything she writes. Most of her stories have a horse in them. She also writes a philosophy of life, which began as a book but only ends up being three pages in length. She hates the peach stand because she cannot read when she is there, or else someone will drive past and mention it to her father T-Ray at church. Then she would be punished. Lily shares the same birthday as the country did, and she is a good liar.

T-Ray Owens

Lily's father, T-Ray is a cold-hearted and controlling man, who rules Lily with an iron fist. T-Ray is strict and refuses to take Lily to football pep rallies or club car washes. He doesn't care that she wears clothes that are ugly, as long as she doesn't look like a tramp. Whenever Lily mentions her mother Deborah, T-Ray gets angry and throws things. He hates her reading, believing college to be a waste of time for girls when their place is within the home. He refers to Shakespeare as Julius Shakespeare and is an uneducated, primitive man. He never once celebrates Lily's birthday. T-Ray has attended church for forty years. He owns a peach farm, which he works all year round. In summer, he works from daylight to dusk, and he is only kind to Snout, his bird dog. Lily sees the sign of the property as T-Ray's way of mooning the world. He is a hard, calculating and ruthless man, who Lily has learned to loathe. He has punished Lily the same way since she was six, by sprinkling grits on the floor and making her kneel in them for hours while he cleans his fingernails with a pocketknife. He does not appear to be racist, but he is a male chauvinist. T-Ray is a war hero and worshiped Deborah. When she left him, his heart was broken, making him an angry and cynical man.


Initially a peach picker, Rosaleen has helped maintain the Owens house and prepared their meals since Lily's mother passed away. She lives alone in a little house tucked back in the woods. She cooks and cleans every day, and she stands in as mother for Lily. She says that bees swarm before death. She is a hard, sharp, authoritative, single African-American woman who has no children of her own. Rosaleen was born in McCellanville, South Carolina, where her mama wove sweet grass baskets and sold them on the roadside to support her family. Rosaleen is one of...
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