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The Secret Life of Bees

by Sue Monk Kidd

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What is the significance of Rosaleen's odd dream in Chapter 3 of The Secret Life of Bees?

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In Chapter 3 of The Secret Life of Bees, Rosaleen wakes and describes a bizarre dream she has had in which the Reverend Martin Luther King painted her toenails red with the spit from his mouth.

In the previous chapter, only Lily has been retrieved from the jail by...

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T. J., where she and Rosaleen were taken after Rosaleen angrily spilled tobacco juice on three white men who harassed her. At home Lily is made to kneel on grits while her cruel father tells her that because her mother did not really care about her, she left. Infuriated, Lily resolves to get Rosaleen out of jail and then leave home for Tilburon, South Carolina. As she walks along the road with some belongings, Brother Gerald from the church drives past her; however, he reverses his car and picks up Lily. He informs the girl that he is also on his way to the jail where he intends to press charges for Rosaleen's theft of the fans. But, when Lily fashions the tale that since Rosaleen is deaf in one ear, she did not hear the minister tell her she could not have the fans, the kind man declares that he will drop the charges. 

Having arrived at the jail, Lily is informed that Rosaleen has been taken to the hospital for stitches on her forehead where Posey's flashlight struck it. Ignoring the policeman Gaston's orders not to go to the hospital, Lily enters it, and when she learns that the white men from the previous night are there to add to Rosaleen's beating, she tells her friend that she must flee. Lily tricks the guard into thinking he has a phone call, and the two slip out of the hospital, hitch a ride, and are dropped off three miles from Tilburon. They eat the cantaloupes that the truck driver has given them, but they have a heated argument because Rosaleen was not considered when Lily decided to run off. After this fight, they split apart as Lily crosses the stream. Later, Lily finds Rosaleen bathing in the creek. She removes her clothes and goes into the water toward Rosaleen where she apologizes as does Rosaleen who has misunderstood Lily's initial motives.

The next morning Lily feels as though she has been at Thoreau's Walden's pond, clean and renewed. And, Rosaleen describes a strange dream that she has had: "The Reverend Martin Luther King knelt down and painted my toenails with the spit from his mouth, and every nail was red as though he'd been suckin' on red hots."

After this, Lily narrates that Rosaleen walks along as though she is on "anointed feet like her ruby toes owned the whole countryside."

From this point in the novel, there are elements of spirituality and magic that become infused into the narrative as strange coincidences and intuitions figure into the action of the plot. The blood-like toenails of Rosaleen is another image of blood, perhaps suggesting difficulties in her journey to civil rights, which forms a backdrop for the novel. Rosaleen ultimately does register to vote and to metaphorically underscore the words of Dr. King: "Let freedom ring!" 

Earlier, Lily is initiated into womanhood with her "rose spot" of blood that signifies her physical changes and burgeoning maturation. Then, her search for her mother and the truth about what actually occurred when her mother died helps Lily to forgive both her parents and move on in her life. She then is able to "reconnect her soul to an inner feminine presence" (eNotes).

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Rosaleen dreams that Martin Luther King paints her toenails with spit from his mouth, and every nail turns red, "like he'd been sucking on red hots." This dream is significant because the Civil Rights movement inspires Rosaleen to get on her feet and start advocating for herself. It's almost as if King puts fire into her to stand up for herself. At the beginning of the book, Rosaleen watches President Johnson sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing discrimination. Rosaleen attempts to register to vote, but she is abused by three white men en route to the poll. When she attempts to defend herself, she is thrown in jail. However, continually inspired by King and his movement, she is finally able to register to vote at the end of the book. The dream signifies the way in which King and the Civil Rights movement make Rosaleen eager and inspired to pursue voting rights. 

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There are many different interpretations of this dream. It could be that Rosaleen feels that Reverend King would be proud of that she stood up for herself and her rights.

The dream has religious symbolism , and the color red is prominent in the dream, as well. In a biblical sense, it is similar to the story of Jesus washing his disciple's feet. The color red and religious tone could also symbolize that Rosaleen has a premonition of Reverend King's coming death.

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