The Secret Life of Bees | Study Guide

Sue Monk Kidd

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The Secret Life of Bees | Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

The opening quotation describes the "queen substance." This chemical, produced by the queen and passed to the workers through physical contact, stimulates worker bees, ensuring the smooth operation of the hive.

Seeing June in the yard with her longtime suitor, Neil, Lily realizes how strange it is for the three sisters to all be unmarried. June's dislike of Lily is apparent when Neil asks Lily some friendly questions.

On Sunday a group called the Daughters of Mary comes to the Boatwrights' for worship. August tells the story of Our Lady of Chains, the wooden statue of the black Mary. A slave named Obadiah found the statue washed up on the riverbank near Charleston. Realizing it was a gift from the Lord, he carried the statue to the praise house. An elderly female slave named Pearl declared that the statue was the mother of Jesus. The slaves painted a heart on the statue's breast, and every Sunday they worshiped the statue, which filled them with strength. Many of the slaves escaped, and those who remained "lived with a raised fist in their hearts." Each time the slave master took away the statue and chained it up, the statue miraculously broke free of the chains and returned to the praise house. He eventually allowed it to stay there.

As part of their worship, The Daughters of Mary begin dancing to the music of June's cello, and one by one they touch the heart of Our Lady of Chains. When it is Lily's turn, June stops playing. Lily faints. After this episode, Rosaleen and August take special care of Lily. When they learn on the news that a rocket will go to the moon, August tells Lily that it is the end of an era. August's mother used to tell her that Our Lady lives on the moon, but with exploration of the moon imminent, Our Lady becomes "just one more big science project."

Analysis

The ritualistic touching of Our Lady's heart by the Daughters of Mary recalls the idea of the physical transmission of "queen substance" mentioned in the opening quote for this chapter. Worshipping Our Lady of Chains brings strength to the Daughters of Mary, just as, according to the legend, it brought strength to the slaves who originally found her. The legend attributes supernatural ability to Our Lady, claiming that she is able to literally break free of the physical chains with which the oppressor continually bound her. Such a story is not so different from the Christian master narrative that accords Jesus, son of Mary, many supernatural abilities—including the ability to rise from the dead after having been killed by his oppressors. By adopting a new master narrative specifically grounded in the experience of slavery and freedom, as well as in female power, the Daughters of Mary honor and draw on the power of their own ancestors.

It is significant that when it is Lily's turn to touch the black Mary's heart, June ceases playing her cello and Lily faints. June's stopping the music is symbolic of Lily's exclusion from this worship ritual, based as it is in the experience of black slavery and oppression. To June, Lily represents the white oppressor and the privilege that comes with having white skin. Lily is aware of being excluded on a visceral, physical level; she is literally unable to touch Mary because she faints. Lily must pass through more trials before she is spiritually prepared to touch the black Mary's heart. In Joseph Campbell's narrative schema of "The Hero's Journey," touching the black Mary's heart is one of the tests, or ordeals, Lily must pass on the way to attaining what she is seeking.

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