She was black as could be, twisted like driftwood from being out in the weather, her face a map of all the storms and journeys she’d been through. Her right arm was raised as if she was pointing the way, except her fingers were closed in a fist. It gave her a serious look, like she could straighten you out if necessary.
In this quotation, from the beginning of chapter four, Lily describes the black Mary statue. Lily has just spotted it in the Boatwright house. She has yet to learn of its significance, to experience its important role in the lives of the Daughters of Mary, and to understand its place in the family history of the Boatwright sisters. Rather, Lily simply yet viscerally reacts to the statue’s material, color, and gesture. Immediately she feels that the statue is able to see deep into her true self. She believes that the statue is aware that she is lying to August and June about where she has come from and why she has come to Tiburon. Although she fears the statue, Lily also connects with Our Lady of Chains and realizes that it has special powers.
These initial reactions help substantiate the role the statue will later take as the Boatwrights’ central religious artifact, which the Daughters of Mary pray to and which Lily goes to for guidance. But, more important, Lily thinks of the statue as the embodiment of a strong and defiant woman. So far, only Rosaleen has inspired Lily to be more powerful and independent. Lily has never had any other female role models, since her mother died when Lily was four and she lived isolated with T. Ray. Arriving in Tiburon, Lily realizes that she has the chance to act in any way she pleases, to become the person she has always wanted to be—and she grows into a strong, confident young woman through her experiences with the statue and with beekeeping. Reacting to this statue in the way she does foreshadows Lily’s eventual transformation. Readers see that Lily has the capacity to become a powerful woman, because she is able to recognize and feel magnetically pulled toward images of such a woman.