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 at the beginning of Chapter 4 in the book "The Secret Life of Bees" mean? The quote is: "Honey bees are social insects and live in colonies. Each colony is a family unit, a single egg-laying female or queen and her many sterile daughters called workers. The workers cooperate in the food-gathering, nest-building and rearing the offspring. Males are reared only at the time of year when their presence is required."

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Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees follows the story of Lily Melissa Owens, a fourteen-year-old girl trapped in an abusive household with her terrifying father, T. Ray. After Rosaleen, the family's maid, pours snuff juice on three white men who were bothering her, Lily and Rosaleen decide...

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to run away to Tiburon, South Carolina. In Chapter Four, Lily and Rosaleen arrive at the spectacular house of August Boatwright and her two sisters, May and June. Lily eventually confesses to August that she and Rosaleen are in need of a place to stay, and August agrees to let the two reside there in exchange for household and beekeeping work.

The quote that precedes this chapter is a metaphorical reflection of the Boatwright household: an organized group of women who work together to create a sanctuary and home for each other. They are providers who do not rely on men, as is traditionally expected of women; like male honeybees, human men are relegated to distant positions away from the inner sanctum of their home. By redefining their lives on their own terms and constructing an environment that rejects the often damaging external masculine influences, these women generate a sustainable lifestyle for themselves. This is a welcome relief for the likes of Lily and Rosaleen, who have both faced the destructive forces of male figures with too much unwarranted power.

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This quote is indicitive of one of the major themes in the book.  The community of women was a strong theme throughout the novel but in this chapter Lily decides to break Rosealeen out of prison and go find a home where they can be happy and accepted.  She washes her hands of her father.  "Through the Daughters of Mary, Kidd depicts a feminist, matriarchal alternative to the racist white male religious and civil authorities who otherwise dominate the town of Tiburon. The Boatwrights and the other Daughters worship a divine feminine presence, the Virgin Mary. The Virgin's nurturing qualities stand in sharp contrast to Brother Gerald, the Baptist preacher at the church in Sylvan. The Daughters' worship revolves around shared meals and communally treasured rituals. By the end of the novel, Rosaleen and Lily both have found a place for themselves in this mostly female community."

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