The Secret Life of Bees | Study Guide

Sue Monk Kidd

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The Secret Life of Bees | Chapter 10 | Summary

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Summary

The shortness of worker bees' lives is reiterated by the opening quotation.

After May has been at the wailing wall for a few minutes, August, June, Rosaleen, and Lily go to look for her. As they search the woods, Lily begins to pray. June calls the police. They find May's body floating in the river.

Eddie Hazelwurst and another policeman come and question the women about May. Lily tells Hazelwurst her made-up story about why she is there. He warns Lily he "better not find [her] still here," living with colored women, the next time he comes to the house. Rosaleen sleeps in May's bed and tells Lily to sleep in her bed that night. Lily does so and dreams of Zach.

On August 5 a hearse brings May's body back to the house for a vigil. Standing by May's body, Lily wants to tell August the truth, but she knows the time is wrong. She prays to May's spirit, asking for a sign of her mother's love.

Later that morning, Clayton Forrest brings Zach back to the house. The charges were dropped after a witness identified the boy who threw the bottle at the white men.

August, Lily, and Zach go to drape the hives with black crepe. August explains this is an old custom to keep bees from leaving after someone's death. August tells Lily the story of Aristaeus, the first beekeeper. Having been punished by the gods with the death of his bees, he sacrifices a bull and his bees, reborn, fly out of the bull's carcass. The story is the reason "people believed that bees had power over death."

The Daughters of Mary arrive with food. As they laugh about "the drive-by window ... at the white people's funeral home," Lily finally feels accepted by them. The next day, August finds May's suicide note. She was "tired of carrying around the weight of the world," and urges them all to live fully. In light of this, August urges June to marry Neil.

The vigil after May's death lasts four days. At May's burial and as she lays in bed that night, Lily hears and feels the hum of bees, "the oldest sound there was. Souls flying away."

Analysis

This chapter reveals historical and present links between bees and death. August expresses her grief over May's suicide through her bees: she puts the hives into mourning by draping black crepe over them. Lily learns from August that bees have been linked with death and resurrection since ancient times. The story of Aristaeus, a minor god in ancient Greek mythology, grounds Lily and August in a long lineage of beekeepers who have been assisted by their bees as they confront and rebound from loss, tragedy, and death. As a highly intelligent natural community, bees respond to human events as well as usher in healing and rebirth. In this way, they are not unlike many conceptions of divinity: they are nonhuman entities involved in human life that have the power to help humans both accept and overcome their suffering.

May's suicide and the vigil confirm Lily as a member of the community of women who mourn May. Their grief unites them, transcending racial boundaries. This is just one of the "rebirths" that occur after May's death. Her death is a tragic loss, but it is also an opportunity for the living to reevaluate their lives and make corrections in order to more fully embrace the potentialities of life. May's awareness of this is communicated in her suicide note: she dies, but the others must live, more than ever. This situation recalls the Christian master narrative wherein Christ dies in order that the world may be saved, or reborn into greater strength and spiritual purity. The Daughters of Mary celebrate the life that comes from death by making May's vigil a joyous rather than solemn occasion.

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