The novel The Secret Life of Bees is centered on a 15 year-old girl, Lily, living in 1964 South Carolina with her abusive father and housekeeper/nanny, Rosaleen. Lily accidentally killed her mother as a young child, which has haunted her and caused her to constantly think about death, crave for motherly affection, and blame herself for the tragedy.
Through Lily’s search for answers with the calendar sisters, she discovers just how powerful love can transcend through a strong female community. Kidd uses descriptive narration in Lily’s perspective to show this sense of community between the Boatwrights sisters and Rosaleen, to create a direct parallel between the important roles in a bee colony to the strong, influential ones of women in Lily’s life. Mainly through the use of symbolism, Kidd shows just how crucial each role (bee and human) is to the stability of the community.
There are quite a few roles bees play in a colony. As explained by August, there are the nest builders, mortician bees, nurse bees, and field bees, the queen bee, and her attendants. Women such as August, Rosaleen, June, and May play crucial roles, symbolized through the bees in a colony. Without each bee, the hive would not be able to function properly, showing that the community depends on each other for operation.
Especially that of the queen, as told in the very first epigraph that “if she [the queen] is removed from the hive, the workers very quickly sense her absence, [and] after a few hours… [will show] signs of queenlessness.” (Kidd 1) This fact shows the extent at which bees rely upon their queen and each other to continue to function; directly relating to Lily’s life in Tiburon, and reliance upon each of the women, that show to be stronger as a community.
Furthermore, while explaining the nature of spirituality and how it relates to colonies, August tells Lily that “most people don’t have any idea about all the complicated life going on inside a hive. [That] bees have a secret life [you and I] don’t know anything about.” (Kidd 148) Lily also realizes the importance of the female power structure, and how that reality also pertains to her life, when August says the queen is “the mother of every bee in the hive, and they all depend on her to keep going.
[No matter what] their job is, they know the queen is their mother,… the mother of thousands.” (Kidd 149) Lily develops the thought that bees are a part of God and Mary, particularly who’s spiritual energy is present everywhere, and in everything. Lily’s understanding of the queen and her role, leads her to believe that she “live[s] in a hive of darkness, and [that Mary is her] mother,… the mother of thousands.” (Kidd 164)
This proclamation of motherhood, that Lily believes Mary offers her and that is prevalent in the secret lives of a bees, connects to the real life foundation of love that Lily gets from August and her empowering female community; setting her to become a resilient and confident woman.