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

The Secret Life of Bees

by Sue Monk Kidd

Start Free Trial

Discussion Topic

The significance and symbolism of the bee-related epigraphs in The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Summary:

The bee-related epigraphs in The Secret Life of Bees symbolize community, growth, and the complexity of life. They foreshadow key events and themes in the story, connecting the protagonist's journey to the natural world and the hive's structure. These epigraphs reflect the protagonist's search for belonging and understanding, paralleling the bees' roles within their hive.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What do the bee quotes at the start of chapters in Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees mean?

To understand the meanings of each quote about bees in the beginning of each chapter of Sue Monk Kidd's novel The Secret Life of Bees, you first want to understand the fact being explained in the quote and then connect the fact to key events or themes in the chapter that follows.

The first quote explains the fact that the queen bee holds the community of the beehive together. She is the leader of the other bees, and if she is no longer in the hive, the other bees feel lost. As the quote states, "The workers very quickly sense her absence." The passage continues to state, "After a few hours, or even less, they show unmistakable signs of queenlessness." In other words, the whole hive falls into a state of panic, distress, and chaos. But a fascinating theme in this quote is the queen bee leaving the hive. To further understand the quote and how it relates to the following chapter, or even the novel as a whole, one may need to look up various reasons why a queen might leave the hive.

There are really only a few reasons why a queen will leave the hive. The first reason is for what is called "her maiden flight" in which she is fertilized by drones. A second reason is if the hive becomes overcrowded; once scouts pick out a location for a new hive, she'll then lead the swarm to the new hive. The third reason is the most dramatic and most important reason--she has died. And, as we can see from the rest of the book, death is a major theme.

It's also important to think about what author Kidd is using the queen bee to symbolize. We know that the queen gives birth to all the worker bees, so she is quite literally the mother of the hive. As we continue to read the first chapter, we learn that the protagonist Lily Owens has become obsessed with death since she was told by her father that she accidentally shot and killed her mother. Since her mother is dead, Lily is quite literally without a queen bee in her life. Lily's caretaker Rosaleen, which interestingly rhymes with queen, has taken on the role of queen bee in Lily's life, but Rosaleen proves to be an unstable queen when she is persecuted by racism and arrested for assault.

In the chapter, we see just how much Lily is missing her queen bee, her mother, in her life when she describes her hallucinations about swarms of bees, which Rosaleen said was an omen of death, and when she describes her fantasies about being with her "mother in paradise." She describes that she pictured her mother, for the "first ten thousand years," "kiss [her] skin till it grew chapped and tell [her that she] was not to blame" (p. 3).

Hence, we see that the quote is meant to symbolize the absence of Lily's mother and capture the theme of death.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What do the quotes at the beginning of each chapter signify in The Secret Life of Bees?

In The Secret Life of Bees, there are fourteen chapters, and in each, the beginning quote tells us about an important theme in the chapter, a way of using bees as a metaphor for the themes in the book that the characters are exemplifying.  Let's look at the beginning quote in one chapter to see how that works.  

At the beginning of Chapter Nine, we have this:

The whole fabric of honey bee society depends on communication - on an innate ability to send and receive messages, to encode and decode information. - The Honey Bee (165).

This quote is telling us that the chapter is going to focus on communication between and among the characters and how that communication is encoded and decoded. In the chapter, some examples of how this theme is borne out are in a scene that takes place with Lily and June, in a scene that takes place between Lily and May, in the communication that does not take place between Lily and August, in the communication among the townsmen and Zach and his friends, and in the communication that leads May to her death.

The relationship between Lily and June has been an uneasy one. June is hostile toward Lily because she is white, since all of June's experiences (and the times) have led her to distrust white people and make her decode improperly everything Lily has to say.  When Lily turns the garden hose on June and June turns the garden hose back on her, they are communicating their hostility like little children, but like little children, they find that the humor of the situation overcomes the hostility and breaks the barrier down the barriers between them, leading to good communication and friendship. Notice that as bees do not communicate with speech, but with various physical movements, the change in communication between Lily and June begins with a physical gesture, not with speech. 

In the same vein, it is May's physical gestures that communicate to Lily in another important scene in the chapter.  Because May cannot bring herself to kill any creature, she spreads graham crackers and marshmallows to lure roaches out of the house. Lily knows that her mother did the same thing, and she "decodes" May's gestures, understanding that her mother had learned this from May, which means that her mother had been with the Boatwright sisters.  Like two bees, Lily and May have communicated.

It is this interpretation of May's actions that makes Lily realize that she must talk to August, to find out the truth about her mother. She intends to do this immediately, but the events that take place in the rest of the chapter prevent this from taking place, putting off one of the most important pieces of communication in the book, the solving of the mystery of Lily's mother.

In the scene in the town that results in Zach being taken to jail, we have white and black men and boys communicating with gestures that are hostile.  The black young men were "glaring over at the men (178). When Zach and Lily pull up in the truck, Zach's black friends come over to the truck.  A white man approaches all of them and

[He] stared at the boys with that same half smile, half sneer...conjured from power without benefit of love (178). 

One of Zach's friends, Jackson, "bites down, causing a tiny ripple across his jaw" (178). He then throws a soda bottle at the man, and the man is injured. None of the black young men will admit who threw the bottle, and as a result, all of them are jailed.  There are words exchanged in this scene, but it is the physical gestures and facial expressions that are being decoded for the most part. And it is the black young men's refusal to communicate, to snitch, that lands them all in jail. 

In the chapter's final scenes, there is communication and a lack of communication that have profound effects upon the story. Everyone agrees that it would be best to protect May from the knowledge that Zach has been jailed, and they manage to conceal this for a while.  But when Zach's mother calls and May answers the phone, she learns the truth.  She becomes nearly catatonic at first, and after August pulls May to her and presses a cold towel to May's head, she seems to rally a bit and says, "I'll be okay" (187). She tells everyone she must go to her Wailing Wall and refuses to allow anyone to go with her. Everyone reluctantly decides to take this communication on its face, taking this to mean that May will be all right, but they really know better, deep down.  

These examples demonstrate the importance of communication and its coding and decoding in the chapter, and there are other examples, as well. This quote sets the stage for these events in the story, as the quotes in the beginnings of the other chapters do, too. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What do the quotes at the beginning of each chapter signify in The Secret Life of Bees?

The quote at the beginning of each chapter lets the reader know something about the theme, purpose, or plot of the chapter. I am going to discuss the quotes at the beginnings of the first four chapters, to show you how each connects.  Someone else might want to discuss some of the others, but this will help you to understand how to make these connections and make it easier for you to make these connections in the other chapters, too.

The first quote, for Chapter One, focuses on the importance of the queen bee and how her absence from a bee colony has a great effect upon the colony. The first chapter introduces us to Lily, who lost her mother at age four, and it explains what an impact the loss of her mother has had upon her.  The mother is the queen bee as the story begins, and Lily is part of the colony, suffering from the loss of her queen bee.

The second quote, for Chapter Two, concerns bees that are leaving the old nest, because they have no queen. A scout bee will look for a new place that is suitable to start a new colony.  This is the chapter in which Lily and Rosaleen leave home, running away after Rosaleen and Lily are apprehended by the police.  While Rosaleen does not know it, Lily has determined to go to Tiburon, to find out about her mother, based upon a label she has from some place she knows her mother has visited, a label captioned "Black Madonna Honey."  This is like the bees leaving their nest to begin a new colony somewhere else.

In Chapter Three, the quote that begins the chapter is about new beekeepers finding a queen bee by first finding her "circle of attendants" (57).  When Lily and Rosaleen get to Tiburon, they stop at a general store, where Lily finds honey jars with the same label, and she inquires about where they are from.  She learns that the honey is made by August Boatwright, and she gets directions to August's house.  She and Rosaleen set off there, looking for the queen bee in a way, finding those who are around her protecting and caring for her.  

The quote that begins Chapter Four concerns bees as social beings. living in colonies, each a "family unit" (67) comprised of females. They all cooperate in all work, and males are not necessary most of the time.  Lily and Rosaleen meet the Boatwright family in this chapter, August, June, and May, all living together in a pink house, working together as a family unit, with no males present anywhere at this point in the book. 

So, you can see that each quote is carefully selected to highlight what the chapter is about, the action in the chapter or a theme of the chapter.  All of the quotes accomplish this, and it is important to look at each as you begin the chapter, since it creates a preview of what is to come. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Secret life of Bees, at the beginning of each chapter, there is a quote. I need the meanings of quotes one to twelve please. 

1) In The Secret Life of Bees, Lily has never been able to recover from her mother's death and her unexplained obsession with bees- real or imagined - drives her search for meaning and acceptance:

The queen, ... is the unifying force of the community; if she is removed from the hive, the workers very quickly sense her absence. After a few hours, ... they show unmistakable signs of queenlessness.

This first quote reflects Lily's feelings as she carries the burden of her mother's death, even now, at age fourteen, some ten years later. The queen bee is the dominant female in the hive and the "worker" bees fiercely protect her. Lily feels her own "queenlessness."

2) Rosaleen, Lily's carer, is arrested for standing up for herself after being racially insulted. This quote prepares the reader for Lily's decision to help Rosaleen escape so they can both search for answers: 

On leaving the old nest, the swarm normally flies only a few metres and settles. Scout bees look for a suitable place to start the new colony. Eventually, one location wins favor and the whole swarm takes to the air. 

Lily decides to head for Tiburon because of the picture of The Black Madonna that was her mother's. Lily thinks she will find answers there just as a bee will never go far from the source (in Lily's case, her mother) to find another suitable colony. It is the obvious choice.

3) Once in Tiburon, Lily notices the jars of honey with the Black Madonna on and is intrigued to be told that August Boatwright makes the honey. She and Rosdaleen will seek out this woman.This quote refers to the way a beekeeper will actually locate the queen bee by watching and following the other bees. Lily, searching for information, knows that she must start with August and the link to the bees and the picture of the Black Madonna:

New beekeepers are told that the way to find the elusive queen is by first locating her circle of attendants.

4) They find the house and watch August for a while. Lily is mesmerized by everything that August represents, referring to her as "the Mistress of Bees, the portal into my mother's life." Lily, misleading August, arranges to stay with August and her sisters. The relevance of the next quote can be seen in the fact that it is all women in the house. Lily finds a statue; obviously the Black Madonna, and begins to recognize her own conflicted feelings of love and hate for herself. The relevance of this quote will be revealed later when Lily discovers that the women were friends of her mother and almost involved in the equivalent of "nest building and rearing...' The Boatwright women are all very aware of others, especially May.

Honeybees are social insects and live in colonies. Each colony is a family unit, comprising a single, egg-laying female or queen and her many sterile daughters ... nest-building and rearing the offspring. Males are reared only at the times of year when their presence is required. 

5) August does, in fact, keep bees and she allows Lily to accompany her and shows her a queen bee. Bees and honey feature largely as "We lived for honey." The quote at number 4 is reinforced consistently as she learns a lot from the sisters. In the next quote, as Lily adjusts to life in the Boatwright's house:

Let's imagine for a moment that we are tiny enough to follow a bee into a hive...we would have to get used to ...the darkness. 

Lily recognizes traits in these women that she vaguely remembers about her mother.

Please post another question for the remainder. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the meaning of the bee-related quotes at the beginning of each chapter from six to fourteen in The Secret Life of Bees?

In The Secret Life of Bees, Lily continues to seek the truth about her mother by spending time with the Boatwright sisters. Her fascination with bees has been realized as August keeps bees and is connected to Lily's mother.

6) The quote, which precedes chapter 6, is a reference to what holds the community together. The statue of the Black Madonna is the community's queen and she provides strength - "queen substance" which allows the community to keep going even when life is particularly challenging. Touching the statue reminds the people of the struggles of the slaves to whom the original statue belonged and encourages them: 

The queen ... attracts the workers and ...by direct contact. This substance evidently stimulates the normal working behavior in the hive. This chemical... has been called "queen substance. " Experiments have shown that the bees obtain it directly from the body of the queen.

7) Lily meets Zach, August's godson, and starts to fall for him. June and her long time boyfriend, to whom she refuses to commit, fight over her refusal. The quote indicates how things are not as they seem. Bees make honey and Lily will lick honey off Zach's fingers. Slowly the stereotypes are being replaced by a reality that reveals that Lily is maturing. Bees guide lily so it is only natural for her to equate her own feelings towards Zach with a reference to bees.    

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

8) August teaches Lily how each bee plays a crucial role in the hive. Lily is comforted by the bees but also feels the loss of her mother deeply. The beehive is like the community and the women in the community of Tiburon do hold it together. Even Lily touches the statue's heart for comfort. May is still distant and is unable to reconcile herself despite everyone's best efforts.

Honeybees depend not only on physical contact with the colony, but also ... its social companionship and support. Isolate a honeybee ... and she will soon die.

August wants Lily to understand how there is so much more to learn and how "You can hear silent things on the other side of the everyday world that nobody else can" if you are willing to learn. Bees have also helped August become the person she is. Lily feels at one with the bees but is starkly reminded that she is also "motherless."

9) Lily feels guilty that she is still deceiving August about her true identity. She speaks to May and asks her if she new her mother "Deborah." It both thrills and terrifies Lily. Life will change dramatically for them all when Zach is arrested and refuses to say who was responsible for throwing a bottle. The sisters have tried to protect May and when she hears the news of Zach's arrest, she is devastated.  

The whole fabric of honey bee society depends on communication-- on an innate ability to send and receive messages, to encode and decode information.

The quote reveals all the possible ways to communicate and how, when we fail, the consequences can be catastrophic. 

10) May commits suicide as she cannot cope with thoughts of what could happen to Zach, even without waiting to hear whether he will be released. May is like one of the bees which doesn't survive its expected lifespan but she does share some useful advice.

A bee's life is but short. During spring and summer...a worker bee, ... does not live more than four or five weeks ... Threatened by all kinds of dangers ...many workers die before 

11) In this chapter Neil will propose to June and this time, she will accept. In life some things are worth doing and, even though May’s death is heart-breaking, everyone can learn something from her. The way August comforts Lily when she talks about her mother, allows Lily to release emotions that surprise her.   

It takes honeybee workers ten million foraging trips to gather enough nectar to make one pound of honey

12)Lily's mother could not able to stay with Lily's father and she left him, leaving Lily behind. August tells Lily that her mother realized that she could not live without Lily and, realizing her mistake, went back for her. Lily's mother was unequipped for motherhood and had no support from Lily's father, whom she married because she was pregnant with Lily. Like the queen, Lily's mother lacks certain instincts.

If the queen were smarter, she would probably be hopelessly neurotic. As is, she is shy and skittish, possibly because she never leaves the hive, but spends her days confined in darkness, a kind of eternal night, perpetually in labor. ... Her true role is less that of a queen than mother of the hive, a title often accorded to her. And yet, this is something of a mockery because of her lack of maternal instincts or the ability to care for her young

13) As the reader reaches the end of the book, he or she can contemplate on the lessons learnt and the influence the bees have had. Lily is realizing that she is a strong person and takes much courage and strength from August and from all the women in her life.

A worker [bee] is just over a centimeter long and weighs only about sixty milligrams; nevertheless, she can fly with a load heavier than herself.

14) Lily will find peace and she will be able to continue her mother's legacy. Lily will also maintain May's wall and pray to the statue. She is the "new queen" and the community will therefore not suffer as she will help to keep the people strong. Even Zach will be able to face the taunts, bravely, from the other children because he has Lily's support. 

A queenless colony is a pitiful and melancholy community; there may be a mournful wail or lament from within. Without intervention, the colony will die. But introduce a new queen and the most extravagant change takes place.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the meaning of the epigraph in the first chapter of The Secret Life of Bees?

This novel contains fourteen chapters, each preceded by an epigraph that previews a thematic topic in the chapter to come. Lily is fourteen when the novel begins and when she embarks on her coming-of-age journey. This first epigraph concerns queen bees and the emptiness other bees feel when the queen leaves or dies. Each subsequent epigraph marks a stage in Lily's maturation.

Lily begins her story confused and in search of a connection to her dead mother. She begins recounting interrelated events and characters: the arrival of bees to her house, memories of killing her mother when she was four and being frustrated by others who do not want to talk about her, and Rosaline, a black woman who worked as Lily's nanny. Allusions to the Virgin Mary (who will become significant in August's religion regarding the Black Mary) and angels (which bees resemble) draw the realism of the novel into a symbolic realm as well.

Lily and the novel begin in a state of queenlessness, as the epigraph mentions:

The queen, for her part, is the unifying force of the community; if she is removed from the hive, the workers very quickly sense her absence. After a few hours, or even less, they show unmistakable signs of queenlessness.

Nothing is yet unifying a community at the start of the novel, nor does Lily even have a community where she feels she can belong. When she leaves her father and finds a home with the Boatwright sisters, she engages in the unifying force of community. What Lily needs as she begins her story, she discovers under the guidance of the novel's "queen," August Boatwright, who heals Lily by teaching her about the Black Mary and the Daughers of Mary, about love, and about storytelling. The Boatwright sisters offer a warm and nurturing community where each sister, and Lily, has a specific role and purpose.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the meaning of the epigraph in the first chapter of The Secret Life of Bees?

Let's start with the definition of an epigraph. It's a quote at the beginning of a chapter that offers insight into the chapter's message.

For The Secret Life of Bees, the epigraph is:

"The queen, for her part, is the unifying force of the community; if she is removed from the hive, the workers very quickly sense her absence. After a few hours, or even less, they show unmistakable signs of queenlessness."

It's important at this point to gain deeper understanding into how a bee colony works. You have the queen, the drones, and the workers. The queen's job is to reproduce, or have children in a way. The drones must mate with the queen to ensure reproduction happens. The workers do everything else. They build the honeycomb, guard the hive, and gather food from outside the hive. If the queen dies or goes away, the drones and workers have no queen to support, so there is no reason for them to stay.

In the novel, Lily runs away from home. Why does she feel the need to run away? Her mother's dead, and she's desperate to become closer to her. Think of Lily's mom as the queen bee. Without her to run the household, the household falls apart, and there's no reason to stay.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What do the epigraphs in The Secret Life of Bees mean?

Each of the epigraphs offers a comment about "the secret life of bees" that also serves as a focusing lens for the chapter it precedes. By reflecting on the human implication of the epigraph concerning bees, the reader can find a deeper significance in the plot unfolding.

The first epigraph addresses "queenlessness," and Lily is clearly in need of a communal "hive" so that she can grow into her potential. As she learns from the Boatwright sisters how to care for bees, she also learns how to care for herself and others. Chapter 2 discusses "scout bees," and Lily and Rosaleen go in search of Tiburon and the Black Mary. When Lily and Zach begin to fall in love and Lily awakens to her maturing sexual self, the chapter is preceded by an epitaph about the sexual behavior of bees.

In chapter 6, we read,

The Queen must produce some substance that attracts the workers and that can be obtained from her only by direct contact. This substance evidently stimulates the normal working behavior in the hive. This chemical messenger has been called "queen substance." Experiments have shown that the bees obtain it directly from the body of the queen.

This connects to the chapter, which concerns a Daughters of Mary service in which participants feel a great release and empowerment when they touch the statue.

We can judge Lily's growth by the last epigraph. Lily has not finished her progress, and she is still trying to reconcile herself to the memory of her mother, but she seems ready to advance into adulthood secure in wisdom she has gained with the Boatwrights. Like the first one, this epigraph discusses a hive whose queen has died. The difference here is that, instead of ending on "queenlessness," this last epigraph suggest hope for a dynamic future when the new queen arrives. One senses that Lily is ready to accept the mantle of being her own queen bee.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What do the epigraphs in The Secret Life of Bees mean?

Each epigraph in The Secret Life of Bees connects in some way to the chapter it heads. Some of those examples are simple and straightforward, but most are metaphorical. They speak to the motif of bees as an allegory for the life of this little society that we're watching from the outside—much as humans must do when observing bees in their natural habitats.

A strong example of this is the epigraph in chapter four. Very simply, the epigraph describes honeybees and their social colony. It highlights a strong central female figure who acts as figurehead for all other workers. It also mentions that male bees are more or less absent.

This model is very strongly reflected in the Boatwright home that Lily and Rosaleen are about to encounter. August Boatwright is very clearly the queen bee described in the epigraph. She is even called "Mistress of the Bees" by Lily (68). Her sisters demonstrate worker-like qualities, and males are conspicuously missing from the home—at least at the beginning.

The connection between the epigraph and the chapter it precedes is replicated throughout the text.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How do the epigraphs in the book The Secret Life of Bees relate to Lily?

There are a number of epigraphs that can be related particularly to Lily and her relationships throughout the book, including her relationship to herself. The epigraph for chapter nine relates to Lily's struggle to communicate with August about who she really is and the questions she has about her mother. The epigraph states that "the whole fabric of honey bee society depends on communication—on an innate ability to send and receive messages, to encode and decode information." Lily struggles immensely with communicating with August about who she is. She knows that August is aware that Lily is keeping something from her, but she is unable to be fully honest with August for much of the duration of the novel. She does eventually communicate honestly with August. Lily also struggles to communicate with June and does not seem to understand the resentment June has for Lily. In Lily's struggles to communicate, she inevitably has a struggle with listening deeply to other people and thinking outside of her own experience to understand where someone else is coming from.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How do the epigraphs in the book The Secret Life of Bees relate to Lily?

Each epigraph in The Secret Life of Bees serves as something of a focusing lens for the chapter that follows. This novel by Sue Monk Kidd is a coming-of-age story, and Lily's quest for understanding and community develops in incremental stages. Each chapter represents a step in this direction.

The first one, for instance, identifies Lily's loneliness, her longing for her dead mother, and her search for community.

The queen, for her part, is the unifying force of the community; if she is removed from the hive, the workers very quickly sense her absence. After a few hours, or even less, they show unmistakable signs of queenlessness.

While the epigraphs provide factual information about bees, the selections relate to other aspects of the hive community: sexual practice, death, and the queen. Comparable chapters address Lily finding the Boatright sisters, falling in love, and learning about her mother's death, and August's role in helping Lily understand the Black Madonna and how Lily might leave the sister's home and enter the world as an adult.

A reader can read just the epigraphs and discover the arc of Lily's emotional journey. Without these, the plot is still a fine coming-of-age story; but, when it is seen through the lens of each of these brief epigraphs, the meaning of Lily's journey is amplified.

In the end, one senses that Lily is ready to take on the role of the new queen and to bring new life into the world she has adopted:

A queenless colony is a pitiful and melancholy community; there may be a mournful wail or lament from within. Without intervention, the colony will die. But introduce a new queen and the most extravagant change takes place.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How do the epigraphs in the book The Secret Life of Bees relate to Lily?

I have edited your question a bit because you have asked two questions.  If you want an explanation of a particular epigraph beyond the one I use as an example, you will need to ask another question.  :)

The epigraphs about bees relate to Lily because humans and bees are social beings.  In particular, bees cannot exist without their queen, and Lily, because she has grown up without a mother, needs a "queen bee," too. 

The epigraph for the first chapter is as follows:

The queen bee, for her part, is the unifying force of the community; if she is removed from the hive, the workers very quickly sense her absence.  After a few hours or even less, they show unmistakable signs of queenlessness (1). 

Even without knowing anything about the story, a reader can tell that the queen bee is important and that somehow, there will be a queen bee in the story.  As we read the chapter, we see how Kidd has tied all of this together, with the bees that appear to Lily and with the understanding that she has lost her queen bee, her mother. 

In each chapter, the epigraph gives us a key to what is important in the chapter, what bees and people have in common. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What do the bees symbolize in The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd?

Bees are powerful symbols in The Secret Life of Bees (Kidd), in addition to being part of the plot structure.  At the beginning of each chapter, a quotation from a book about bees features some aspect of beekeeping that states the theme of the chapter.  Overall, the bees are symbols of mothering and community. 

In the very first chapter, the beginning quote states,

The queen...is the unifying force of the community; if she is removed from the hive, the workers very quickly sense her absence (Kidd 1).

And as the chapter unfolds, we see that Lily's queen bee, her mother, is gone and that, despite the love of Rosaleen, she suffers greatly from the loss of her mother.  The bees seem to speak to her, swarming in her room to try to tell her something. By Chapter Two, after some dreadful encounters with her father and Rosaleen's problems in town with the police, Lily clutches a bee jar, emptied of bees that have flown away, and determines that she will fly away, too, taking Rosaleen with her. She hears a voice telling her "... your jar is open" (41). She decides that she will go on a quest to learn about her mother. 

When she and Rosaleen flee, they head for Tiburon, South Carolina, which is the name on the back of a memento Lily has from her mother.  There they meet and begin to live with the Boatwright sisters.  The oldest, August, is a beekeeper, and she is clearly the queen bee for the family. She becomes Lily's queen bee, too, as well as Rosaleen's, providing the love and support for the household and much of the larger community, able to answer questions for Lily about her mother's life, and putting Lily on a path to heal and be happy.

A beehive is a community that depends upon its queen bee to survive and to thrive, and throughout the entire story, Lily learns that she can thrive in a community with a wonderful queen bee, August Boatwright.      

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on