Regarding Bees: Symbols in Modern Society: The Secret Life of Bees
"She liked to tell everybody that women made the best beekeepers, 'cause they have a special ability built into them to love creatures that sting. 'It comes from years of loving children and husbands,' she'd say."
— Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees 143
After over two hundred years, people are still turning to nature and the symbol of the bee to use as commentary on current issues in society. Sue Monk Kidd is doing the same thing in her novel The Secret Life of Bees. The basic story is about a girl named Lily who runs away from her abusive father with her housekeeper Rosaleen. They end up at the home of three sisters named May, June, and August Boatwright. The book explores ideas such as racism and women, and these same ideas are illustrated through the symbol of the bee. The story itself takes place in 1964, but the issues it brings up are current, which accounts, in part, for the book’s success.
Every chapter of the novel begins with an epigraph containing a bee fact from other books about bees and gives some insight about the chapter. For example, the first chapter’s epigraph reads “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” (1). from the book Man and Insects. Though the correlation is not directly drawn, we learn in the first chapter that Lily’s mother is gone and that she and her dad don’t have a good relationship, showing that Lily’s mother is the queen bee, and her workers cannot go on without her.
But the last chapter brings it full full circle with a quote from The Queen Must Die; And Other Affairs of Bees and Men. “A queenless colony is 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” (277). The chapter doesn’t say who the new queen is, but we can infer that Lily has taken over the role that her mother left. After Lily stands up to her father, she shakes off the melancholy of the worker bee and takes control of her own life (296).
August takes care of her beehives the same way she takes care of the people in her house. This might imply that she is the queen bee, but she is literally and figuratively the beekeeper who keeps the queen safe.
There are several applications to society that Kidd is trying to bring out. Unity among women is a big one. Also, the idea that people of different races can live and learn together is important.
Other Modern Books With Bees
In the book Bone Gap, the protagonist’s friend is a beekeeper. The bee is also a symbol of the strong women in the town of Bone Gap.
Laline Paull’s novel takes place within the hive itself with a bee playing the leading role. The story explores the idea of individualism within a structured society while also highlighting the importance of bees to agriculture.
The bee is not used as a symbol in this Goosebumps books, but it is used as a vehicle to show why the protagonist, Greg, should appreciate his own life. The book also illustrates the complicated relationship people have with bees that has persisted over the years.
 Kidd, Sue Monk. The Secret Life of Bees. Viking, 2002.
"The Secret Life of Bees Trailer." YouTube. Uploaded by FoxSearchlight, 9 Sep 2009, www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVCil2oSNYY.
Ruby, Laura. Bone Gap. Balzer+Bray, 2015.