Finding Her Queen “New beekeepers are told that the way to find the elusive queen is by first locating her circle of attendants. ” (57) This quote is at the beginning of chapter three and not only foreshadows many things to come, but within the quote, two of the novel’s main metaphors are mentioned, bees and the queen, which is referring to society and a mother figure. Although this quote is largely interpreted as a metaphor for Lily looking for a new queen or mother figure, and perhaps August being that mother, I believe that it has another meaning as well.
I believe that the Black Madonna also serves as a “queen” and mother figure to all the women in “The Secret Life of Bees. ” Chapter three begins with Lily waking up feeling as if she has spent the night next to Thoreau’s Walden Pond. While waiting for Rosaleen to wake up, Lily looks at the picture of the black Virgin Mary that was her mother’s.
We learn that Lily doesn’t know much about Catholicism, because “According to Brother Gerald, hell was nothing but a bonfire for Catholics. (58. ) After awhile, Lily decides to wake Rosaleen. Rosaleen tells her she had a dream about Martin Luther King Jr. , painting her toenails with his spit. As they walk into town, Rosaleen tells Lily that no motel is going to let a colored woman stay there, even though the Civil Rights Act has been passed. Lily shows that she is still naive about racism, wondering what the Civil Rights Amendment was all about if Rosaleen can’t stay in a motel now.
As they continue to walk, Lily is looking for a divine sign to tell her what to do when they come across Frogmore Stew General Store and Restaurant. Lily goes inside to buy lunch and steals a can of snuff for Rosaleen, since the store is only allowed to sell restaurant food on Sundays. While inside, she sees a jar of honey that has the exact same picture of the black Virgin Mary on it as her mother’s picture. She asks the shopkeeper who made the honey and finds out that August Boatwright is a beekeeper in town who lives in a Pepto Bismol colored house.
Lily decides she has to visit this house. Before heading to August’s house, they buy a paper and are thankful to see that the news of Lily breaking Rosaleen out of jail and running away hasn’t been reported. It is interesting how Sue Monk Kidd has used religious themes in her book. The protagonist’s name is Lily and the lily is the flower that is the symbol of the Virgin Mary. In chapter one, Lily is fascinated by the arrival of bees and even imagines that they are swarming in her room as she lies awake in bed at night.
Lily notes, “[The bees] showed up like the angel Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary. I know it’s forward to compare my small life to hers, but I have good reason to believe she wouldn’t mind. ” (2) This reference to the Annunciation when Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to the son of God shows the wiser-beyond-her-years Lily has an inkling that her life will forever change in the near future, a change that will bring her new life. At the beginning of the chapter three Lily talks about her lack of knowledge about Catholicism.
By including this information the author provides elements of foreshadowing and dramatic irony, pointing out the hypocrisy of the church in which Lily has grown up, in a way that sets the stage for the contrast between the two religions that will be developed later in the story. The Methodist Church in Sylvan, whose deacons “locked arms across the church steps” to turn away Negroes who might come to worship with them (30), consider hell “nothing but a bonfire for Catholics” (58. Their righteous intolerance contradicts the message of love taught by the Christ whom they profess to follow, and their failure to touch those Catholics they would convert is exemplified by the plastic gloves they wear with the five-part plan of salvation written on them. Ironically, Lily, who gets no sustenance from the church in Sylvan, finds healing in the Catholic sect of the Black Madonna, precisely because its members, in stark contrast, touch her – they reach out to her, provide for her needs, and love her unconditionally. There are also religious overtones in Rosaleen’s dream.
Although it could be that Rosaleen feels that Reverend King would be proud of that she stood up for herself and her rights, I think 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. However, the most intriguing religious metaphor has to center around the Black Madonna. The Black Madonna has different meanings for different people.
Lily sees it as the link to finding her mother or information about her mother. On the other hand, for Rosaleen and the other women, it gives them the will and the strength to keep going on, even when life brings them down. At the same time it is symbolic to Lily and Rosaleen in the same importance because the Black Madonna is symbolizing feminism. It is important to note that August said “The people called her Our Lady of Chains. They call her that not because she wore chains, but because she broke them. ” (110. ) The Black Madonna, had existed during slavery in the South, and was a symbol of freedom and consolation.
Lily’s more symbolic search for home and mother that needed to take place: a coming home to herself and the discovery of the mother within. Lily needed to find an undreamed of strength, and she did it the same way the powerful black women around her did it – through the empowerment of a divine feminine presence, in this case a Black Mary. Kidd also felt that it was important that the image of Mary was black. Not only because the women who revered her were black, but because historically Black Madonna’s have often been at the root of insurgence.
The Black Madonna is almost like the White Madonna before the church scrubbed the really interesting stuff out of her. The Lady of Chains or the Black Madonna has a deeper meaning behind it that is hard to understand. It symbolizes breaking free from chains and slavery. To the Calendar sisters, their Lady of Chains means more of freedom from the slavery that they or their relatives had to endure because they were black. However, to Lily I think that The Lady of Chains means something completely different.
When Lily wanted to touch her heart but couldn’t, I think that symbolizes all the times that she wanted to touch her mother, but couldn’t. If she could only touch the Lady of Chains heart then she could break free from the chains of emptiness and pain that she felt in her heart because of the loss of her mother. As the epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter in the novel suggest, the pink house in the novel is a kind of hive community. As for who the queen bee in the novel might be, is it August or the Black Madonna? I believe it might be a little bit of both.
Cite this Secret Life of Bees
Secret Life of Bees. (2018, Jan 25). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/secret-life-of-bees/