About the Book
When a hive of bees loses its queen, the male drones—Alfred, Mo, the Grand Drone and the rest—quickly form a governing council. The female worker bees, Thora and Belle among them, simply keep preparing the hive for the new virgin queen while feeding and grooming the drones. When the new queen hatches, she quickly asserts her privileges and stings her rivals to death. The drones, disdainful of the constantly toiling workers, sip honey, make laws regulating the movements of the sun, and go queen-questing.
Mo, the subversive philosopher of the hive, begins to question the way things are. He tries to enlighten Thora and the other worker bees. Alfred, the self-absorbed poet, is not sure change is needed. In the midst of this upheaval, Thora questions her destiny as a worker, and her view of life begins to change. In the bees' brief lives, they experience religious awakenings, but at the end face bitter realities about their predestined fates.
A Hive for the Honeybees is an allegorical novel. An allegory is a story set in one world which comments incisively on another world, often through exaggeration. Here, the instincts, customs, and structures of bee society provide a commentary on human society.
- How would you describe the bees' class system?
- How would you describe the gender roles?
- In what ways is the bee society presented here an exaggeration of human society? In what ways is it accurate?
- Compare the bees' society to human societies you know.
- Some allegories create wholly imaginary worlds, but the allegorical world created in this novel is based on the actual workings of a bee hive. How does this affect your acceptance of the allegory and your enjoyment of the book?
Allegory commonly uses one-dimensional characters to represent, in exaggerated form, certain types of people. In this novel, the minor characters, such as the Grand Drone and Guy, are one-dimensional types, while the main characters, especially Thora, Mo, and Alfred, also represent types, but are more complex characters who change and grow.
- What types of people do the different characters represent?
- What did you find likable about Thora, Belle, Mo, and Alfred?
- What do you find exasperating or disappointing?
- How do their failings make them seem more real to you, and perhaps more endearing?
- Do any of them remind you of yourself or people you know?
Daisy, the undersized drone who was born too early, is a literary type known as the wise fool, a character who is outcast or ridiculed though he or she sees the truth that others miss.
- What other characters like Daisy have you encountered in your reading? (The Fool in Shakespeare's dramas often plays this role.)
- Why are the others so sure Daisy's "babblings" are meaningless?
- Why is it that as an outcast Daisy is able to perceive the truth about the Great Drone's appearances, the folly of the drones issuing orders to the workers, and the real destiny of the drones?
- Mo undertakes several schemes intended to advance hive society: the enlightenment of the workers, equality between drones and workers, friendship with the ants and wasps. What do you think of these schemes? Why do they fail? How do you react to Mo's condescending attitude toward the workers in spite of his good intentions toward them? ("This little worker was really imaginative in her small way," page 90). Does Mo remind you of any human philosopher or politician in history?
- Alfred convinces himself that his love for the Queen is "pure and idealistic." Though he has never spoken to her, he admires her noble spirit as well as her beauty. Is Alfred's sentiment love, or is it something else? Have you ever felt similar emotions? Alfred's response to his shocking disillusionment is to write a poem. What do you think of Alfred's habit of turning every moving experience into a poem? Considering that the author is a writer herself, do you think she is using Alfred's character to poke fun at herself and writers in general?
- The drones praise the Great Drone in the Sky, a divine figure very much like themselves, and they establish a religion in worship of him. What do you think the author is suggesting about human religions and human imaginings of divinity? Do you agree? Would you say that the drones' religion is typical of religions, or is it an exaggeration of some tendencies in religion?
- Mo and Alfred urge Thora to be free, to choose not to live only within the role she has been born into. Thora feels this is "terrifying talk." Why are these ideas terrifying to Thora? Why in the end does Thora return to her traditional role? What do you think of her choice? Can you see any parallels in human social history?
- Several characters consider their destiny, the purpose and meaning of their existence. What do Alfred, Mo, Thora, and Belle think are their destinies? What do the drones in general believe? Why do some characters recognize that death is coming, and others do not? Is death a tragedy in this world? What is more important, one individual's sense of fulfillment or the assurance that there will be future generations? Are both important in different ways?
- Mo discovers what he feels are the ultimate truths: "The first is that the universe is greater than any single bee. The other is that any single bee is greater than the universe...One truth or the other explained everything. The meaning of existence. The existence of meaning." (pages 194-195). What does Mo mean by this? Consider what he believes the drones must do to make their deaths noble, glorious, and meaningful (Chapter 34). What does his belief suggest about the existence of meaning, where it comes from and how it is found?
- What do you think of the drones' inflated idea of their own importance? Does this remind you of any groups in human society either today or in history?
- One way of thinking about this book is as an exploration of these lines from Shakespeare's Macbeth: Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. (Act V, Scene V, 24-28) Do you agree with these lines? Ultimately, do you think Lally's book supports or challenges this view?
For Further Reading
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
- Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
- The Queen Must Die and Other Affairs of Bees and Men by William Longgood
- Macbeth by William Shakespeare
About the Author
Soinbhe (pronounced "Son-veh") Lally lives in Donegal, Ireland. She has published numerous short stories, plays, and articles in newspapers and journals on both sides of the Atlantic, including the Irish Press and the Atlantic Monthly. She is the recipient of the Hennessy Literary Award.
Discussion guide written by Lauren Stevens Thompson, an editor and author of children's books, and Robert Thompson, a teacher of literature and writing at Touro College, New York, New York.