What is the significance of the quotation at the beginning of chapter 7 in The Secret Life of Bees?

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In chapter 7 the quote relates to bees and sexuality:

How did bees ever become equated with sex? They do not live a riotous sex life themselves. A hive suggests cloister more than bordello.

(—The Queen Must Die: And Other Affairs of Bees and Men)

The quote is referencing the idea of the “birds and the bees,” when people have to give a sex talk, and they reference birds and bees as a metaphor for nature and reproduction. Bees are not sexual beings though, instead, they are industrious—going about their work. The incorrect association of bees with sexual reproduction is tied to the idea of bees being active during Spring, which is a metaphor for the creation of new life. However, the novel is using this quote to clarify its own metaphor about bees.

Specifically, the novel uses bees as a metaphor for women. The queen bee leads just as August Boatwright leads her household and business. The Boatwright house is full of women, but unlike the stereotype of a brothel (the typical house that would be full of women), the women of the Boatwright house are focused on their relationships with one another and the labor of their hands. The Boatwrights have a very productive honey farm, and their experience is more like a cloister with a focus on work and relationships.

The movement away from men is a healing action in the novel. Just as Lily gets away from her father and learns about womanhood through the devotion to the Black Madonna and life at the Boatwright house—the Boatwrights themselves tend to eschew standard social norms in relation to courtship and marriage. The metaphor for bees, therefore, holds up well for describing life in pursuit of industry rather than what was normal for women at the time—a life serving as both a wife and mother, which is intrinsically tied to sex.

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Chapter 7 starts with a quote, reading:

How did bees ever become equated with sex? They do not live a riotous sex life themselves. A hive suggests cloister more than bordello.
(—The Queen Must Die: And Other Affairs of Bees and Men)

It's saying that bees don't have the sex life that their reputation might suggest. She compares them to nuns rather than prostitutes.

This is significant because Lily is experiencing romantic, sexual feelings for one of the first times in her life. Her attraction to Zach is new to her; it's related to the quote because Lily relates to the bees. She doesn't want to see her feelings for Zach as anything overtly sexual. She doesn't want to feel like a prostitute. Instead, her feelings for him are exciting and new.

However, it also relates because it shows how Lily might be moving away from her young fascination with and relationship to bees. She's not living in a cloister; she's getting older and having the feelings that come along with that. Lily says:

It was foolish to think some things were beyond happening, even being attracted to Negroes. I’d honestly thought such a thing couldn’t happen, the way water could not run uphill or salt could not taste sweet. A law of nature. Maybe it was a simple matter of being attracted to what I couldn’t have. Or maybe desire kicked in when it pleased without noticing the rules we lived and died by.

She says this when they're visiting the bees together, and it shows her growing and changing from the person she thought she was; that's what makes the quote most significant. It shows how Lily, a dynamic character, is different from the static bees.

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