Of Bees and Queens

By Katie Z., 9th Grade

August 2016

A beehive is a complex system that contains the worker bees, larvae, drones, and above all, the Queen Bee. Though all parts of the hive are important, the Queen Bee is essential to the life of the hive. Without her, no new bees would be born, and the hive would ultimately fail. The beehive is a metaphor for a home in which the Queen is the mother who offers love and security. She’s able to do this because she finds these qualities within herself. The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd, is a novel focusing around femininity and womanhood. As the title suggests, bees play an important role in the story. In particular, the Queen is someone who reproduces and creates a home.  The novels suggests that a Queen Bee is every woman because she generates life and defines  home, an idea that celebrates women and their power.

August and the Black Mary, two examples of the Queen Bee, generate life for Lily by providing hope and freedom, which allow her to start anew. T-ray, Lily’s father, isolates her and makes her feel worthless since he doesn’t love her. When Lily firsts happens upon the Black Mary, the little statue guides her to Tiburon, South Carolina, and offers hope of finding Lily’s mother and learning about her past. However, as the novel progresses and August recites the story of the Black Mary, it becomes clear that both August and the Black Mary help Lily develop into a whole new person. The story of Black Mary is a simple one about a wooden woman that washed onto land. Believing it to be a sign from God, the slaves worshipped it, but it was taken away by their owner. The owner chained up the statue, but miraculously, it escaped. The statue offered spiritual unity and freedom. Lily believed, hoped that the Black Mary would also be a symbol of her mother. However, August tells Lily, “You don’t have to put your hand on Mary’s heart to get strength and consolation and rescue, and all the other things we need to get through life,’ she said. ‘You can place it right here on your own heart. Your own heart’” (Kidd 288). August shows Lily that, even without a literal Mary and mother, finding love in oneself and closure is still possible. With this new realization, the Black Mary inside of herself provides Lily a new life, a new sense of freedom and hope, allowing her let go of her past, both her mother and father.

While at first Lily believes that home is where her mother is, her journey allows her to realize that home is found within herself, proving that the Queen Bee is in every woman. At the beginning at her story, Lily experiences what home isn’t. Her dad fails to provide comfort by forcing her to sell peaches, criticizing her love for literature, and making her kneel on grits as punishment. Home consists of love and validation, but T.Ray only offers anger and criticism, not allowing Lily to mature into a person she wants to be. Furthermore, the guilt of mother’s death causes her to feel like she deserves the punishment of living with T.Ray. When she decides that she no longer can live with her father, she goes on a journey to find a real home, or a place with ties to her mother. By living with the calendar sisters, Lily finds within herself the strength to let go of the guilt and forgive her mother for leaving. When T.Ray arrives to take Lily back, she stands up to him by calling him “daddy”, and telling him that she’s staying. Lily’s actions demonstrate her growth because in the beginning, she wouldn’t call T.Ray “dad” or “daddy” because she was angry, but now she understands why he acts the way he does. She forgives him, just as she forgives her mother. Home is the feeling of love and being enough, and Lily finds that within herself. She loves herself and realizes that in the end, she is enough. When she’s younger, Lily harbors anger T.Ray, which is deserved, but, reflects her anger at herself. In the end, she is able to forgive her dad because she finds peace in herself.

August, the Black Mary, and all the calendar sisters generate a home, one that is pink and full of jars of honey. Within that home, everyone has a specific role to play, whether it’s cooking, collecting honey, or creating music. When Lily enters this home, she is lost and incomplete. However, as she grows with the wisdom of the women, she realizes that home is created by love, comfort, and acceptance of herself. Traditionally, women have been the Queen Bees, in a sense that they generate home for their loved ones. In The Odyssey by Homer, Penelope is Odysseus’s home to which he returns after many long and arduous battles. Another contemporary example is in the Broadway musical Hamilton. Alexander, after his son dies, becomes a different person. No matter how far up he climbs in political pursuits, he always returns to his wife, Eliza, or his home. These tales bring up an interesting question as to whether men can also be home. In another words, can they create that feeling of love and be complete within themselves, or must they be the monster-slaying heroes that fight the angry seas? Perhaps it is possible for a man to be a lover and not a fighter, though literature offers few examples of this idea.

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