The Secret Life of Bees

Bees Symbol Icon

The most obvious symbols in The Secret Life of Bees are the bees themselves. Kidd makes it clear from the start that she’s drawing an analogy between the behavior of bees and the behavior of human beings: every chapter begins with an epigraph from a book about bees, and we gradually realize that each one has some thematic significance for the events of that chapter. Specifically, the bees in their beehives symbolize the women in the novel, sheltered in their tiny house in Tiburon, South Carolina. Like bees, the women develop an extremely close, nurturing relationship with each other. At the same time, the sheltered nature of their lives is a constant challenge: like queen bees in a hive, Lily Owens and the Boatwright family are surrounded by “darkness”; i.e., the moral uncertainty they face as they try to decide how to move forward in the face of tragedy.

Bees Quotes in The Secret Life of Bees

The The Secret Life of Bees quotes below all refer to the symbol of Bees. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of The Secret Life of Bees published in 2003.
Chapter 8 Quotes

“What I mean is that the bees weren’t really singing the words from Luke, but still, if you have the right kind of ears, you can listen to a hive and hear the Christmas story somewhere inside yourself.”

Related Characters: August Boatwright (speaker), Lily Owens
Related Symbols: Bees
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat

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“Egg laying is the main thing, Lily. She’s the mother of every bee in the hive, and they all depend on her to keep it going. I don’t care what their job is—they know the queen is their mother. She’s the mother of thousands.”

Related Characters: August Boatwright (speaker), Lily Owens
Related Symbols: Bees
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Bees Symbol Timeline in The Secret Life of Bees

The timeline below shows where the symbol Bees appears in The Secret Life of Bees. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
The chapter begins with a quote from a book about bees: when a queen bee is taken from a hive, the other bees notice her absence... (full context)
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
The year is 1964. An unnamed narrator sits in bed and watches bees flying around the room. The narrator, a 14-year-old girl, thinks back on everything that’s happened... (full context)
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
The narrator sees a swarm of bees entering her room, and she runs to wake her father. When T. Ray surveys the... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
The morning after she wakes T. Ray, Lily tries to catch a bee to prove that she wasn’t lying last night. She shows Rosaleen the jar she’s found,... (full context)
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...to leave T. Ray as soon as possible. In the afternoon, she catches a few bees in her jar. (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
...he assumes Lily is talking about “female puberty.” That night, Lily decides to let the bees out of her jar. To her surprise, the bees stay in the jar even after... (full context)
Chapter 2
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
The epigraph for this chapter, again from a book about bees, explains that when a swarm of bees leaves an old hive, a few “scout bees”... (full context)
Chapter 3
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
The epigraph from the bee book discusses how the best way to find a queen is to find its “circle... (full context)
Chapter 4
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
Another selection from the bee book explains that honeybees are mostly female—males are born and raised, but only when their... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
...to use some of the equipment, and explains that her grandfather left her a huge bee farm. August tells Lily that her usual assistant, a teenager named Zach, is on vacation.... (full context)
Chapter 5
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
A book on bees explains that the biggest difference between a human’s life and a bee’s is the constant... (full context)
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
...their stay later by working in the honey room. May teaches Lily a song about bees, which Lily enjoys singing. Lily quickly learns that life among the Boatwrights revolves around honey.... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
...and Rosaleen came to the Boatwrights’ house. That evening, August shows Lily how the queen bees lay their eggs. August “introduces” Lily to the queen bee, and shows her the honey... (full context)
Chapter 6
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
In a book on bees, we learn that the queen controls the worker bees in the hive by feeding them... (full context)
Chapter 7
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
In a book about bees, we learn that it’s a misconception that bees are constantly having sex—on the contrary, bees... (full context)
Chapter 8
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
According to a book about bees, honeybees need social companionship to survive. (full context)
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
August tells Lily more about her grandmother: she taught August how to take care of bees. Her grandmother claimed that bees hummed the music of Jesus Christ. August clarifies that this... (full context)
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
...the hives (just as Lily and Zach did a few weeks before). Out on the bee farm, August tells Lily to close her eyes and listen to the sound of the... (full context)
Chapter 9
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
According to a book on bees, a honeybee relies on careful communication with other bees. (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
...evaporated the water already inside. While Lily replaces a lid on a hive box, a bee stings her. August explains that the hot weather makes the bees “out of sorts.” Lily... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
...Zach looks frightened and uncertain. August tries to calm him by telling him about the bees on the farm. Zach asks Lily if she’s been writing in her notebook. Lily wants... (full context)
Chapter 10
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
The book on bees informs us that a bee’s life is very short—most worker bees die in less than... (full context)
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
...in honor to May. The purpose of this tradition, August explains, is to prevent the bees from flying away after a death in the family. She also tells Lily the story... (full context)
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
...body to be buried, and Lily goes outside to listen to the sound of the bees humming in their hives. She thinks that they sound like “souls flying away.” (full context)
Chapter 12
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
This chapter’s epigraph is about how the life of a queen bee is very hard. She doesn’t always know how to take care of her “children,” and... (full context)
Chapter 13
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
In this chapter’s epigraph, we learn that worker bees, despite their small size, can fly carrying objects that weigh more than they do. (full context)
Chapter 14
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
The last chapter’s epigraph is about a hive of bees without a queen. A “queen-less colony” is sad and mournful, but when a new queen... (full context)
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
The next day, Lily goes to meet August by the beehives. August shows Lily a beehive that’s missing a queen bee. As they look at the... (full context)