illustration of the back of main character Lily Owens's head with a honeycomb background

The Secret Life of Bees

by Sue Monk Kidd
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What does the quote mean in the beginning of chapter 8 in The Secret Life of Bees?

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Interpreting this quote depends on the way the reader understands who is referred to as “the honeybee,” who “her sisters” are meant to represent, and who (if anyone) specifically is to “die.” While May, June, and August Boatwright are biological sisters, the idea of sisterhood as female community and solidarity...

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Interpreting this quote depends on the way the reader understands who is referred to as “the honeybee,” who “her sisters” are meant to represent, and who (if anyone) specifically is to “die.” While May, June, and August Boatwright are biological sisters, the idea of sisterhood as female community and solidarity is strongly present in the novel.

The ways that the actual bees live as a specific kind of insect is explored throughout the novel. Bees live together in a hive, not isolated as hermits. The importance of support within a group is essential for Lily, who feels especially alone without her mother. Furthermore, the bees’ social collectivity is all female, and the Tiburon community is largely female.

If the quote refers to human individual characters, it seems most directly applicable to May and her deceased twin, April. The quote can foreshadow May’s death. Although she has managed to survive without her twin, the trauma of survival has weighed heavily on her and likely contributes to her suicide, which is related in a subsequent chapter. In a different sense, however, it can refer to Deborah, Lily’s mother. She had once been a member of this community, but later in her marriage to T. Ray, her isolation from other women became a factor in her death.

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Isolate a honeybee from her sisters and she will soon die.

As you have no doubt realized, the quotes opening each chapter of this novel are both insight into some of the themes of the book (through bee symbolism) but also foreshadowing of events in the book.  You can make your own prediction as to what such a quote might be foreshadowing.

As for thematic revelations, this quote speaks to more than one.  First, a predominant theme of the book is female relationships, and the necessity of women to connect with other women for personal growth and a sense of identity.  This quote speaks directly to this idea.  The message here is that female relationships and a connection to a community (according to this quote) is not merely a suggestion for women to be happy, it is required for them to live.

Secondly, this quote speaks to the feminist ideals presented in the novel.  This chapter includes a conversation between Lily and August, where August reveals why she never married:

There were enough restrictions in my life without someone expecting me to wait on him hand and foot.  (145)

In all of her talks of love and relationships, August Boatwright is against the institution of marriage.  She believes it would mean losing her sense of self, her true independence.  This stems from a very feminist idea that in a male-dominated society, men hinder women from becoming who they are meant to be.  Certainly this is one issue raised in the book that remains left open for personal reflection.

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