Mark Twain’s essay titled ‘Bee’ is unique in many ways. What happens in a ‘Bee Hive’ is narrated beautifully from the viewpoint of a writer who has a penchant for humor and satire. Although he knew about the ‘Bee’ from his childhood days, it was Maeterlinck, who introduced the ‘Bee’ to Mark Twain scientifically.
Mark Twain was one of the great US writers, known for his sense of humor and satire. Among his literary works, his series of essays that include ‘What is a man ?’ and others, published by him stand out as monuments of literary achievement.
Mark Twain’s essay titled ‘Bee’ is unique in many ways. What happens in a beehive is narrated beautifully from the viewpoint of a writer who has a penchant for humor and satire. Although he knew about the ‘Bee’ from his childhood days, it was Maeterlinck, who introduced the ‘Bee’ to Mark Twain scientifically.
However, after studying the ‘Bee’ Mark Twain concluded; he radically differed from the scientists like Huber, Lubbock, and Maeterlinck and tried unsuccessfully to convince them that ‘Bees are akin to human beings in their lifestyle.’ But you can understand the thin veil of humor and satire of Mark Twain only after reading the essay ‘Bee’ in its entirety.
Though Scientists generally refer to a ‘Bee’ as ‘she’, Mark Twain differs from them and narrates the ‘Bee’ in his typical style as follows:
The Queen, the head of a beehive is a married bee. She has 50,000 children. Of them, there are 100 sons and the rest are daughters. Of the daughters, some are young maids and others are old maids. But all the daughters are virgins and remain so.
During the spring season, all of a sudden the ‘Queen Bee’ marries one of her sons and sets off for her honeymoon with her husband. But the ‘Queen Bee’s honeymoon is short-lived and ephemeral, lasting for only an hour or two. At the end of her honeymoon, the ‘Queen Bee’ divorces her husband and returns home, capable of laying two million eggs.
Nearby the royal chamber of the Queen Bee, there are several young daughters, which are royal heirs living in separate chambers which are royally fed with rich food. Being richly nourished, you can notice them grow big and shining with a curved sting. They also live a luxurious life than others.
Mark Twain while referring to the lifestyle of royal heirs in a beehive also indirectly points out how the coterie of people living nearby the high profile people who are in power, live a life of luxury without doing anything.
The Queen Bee should also see that the total population of the Beehive remains standard that it does not exceed or gets shorter by 50,000 in total, because birds may eat hundreds of them, or 100s of them may die by drowning. The Queen Bee lays 2000 or 3000 eggs a day and she must exercise judgment and discretion to see that she does not fall short in laying eggs what is required in a slim flower-harvest. Otherwise, the Queen Bee may get sacked by the Board Of Directors of the Company. Here Mark Twain is rather sarcastic.
A common bee stings a common bee or anyone, but a royal bee stings only royalty. When the Queen Bee becomes old, any one of the royal bees engages in a duel with the Queen Bee, using her sting. Even one or two more attempts are permitted. The victor will become the new Queen and the vanquished will be packed off to a judicial assassination.
‘A common bee stings a common bee or anyone, but a royal bee stings only royalty’, this comment of Mark Twain in the course of his narration also indirectly describes or criticizes the class structure or secluded behavior of the high-class society; how the high-class people keep aloof themselves from others without mingling with others in the society.
While explaining the lifestyle of a Queen Bee, Mark Twain is at his best. His analysis of a beehive draws a parallel between human beings and the bees, especially the Queen Bee.
The Queen Bee, though royal in her stature, is lonely as if she is in an Egyptian palace; always a team of spy bees hovers around constantly to assess the strength and weaknesses of the Queen Bee; though the Queen Bee is longing for love and passion, it is only lip service but not forthcoming; the bees, whose duty is to look after the Queen Bee, often pretend before the Queen Bee giving her the due respect, but criticizing her on her back; support her when the Queen Bee is in her strength, but forsake her when she becomes weak;
The relationship between the Queen Bee and others reminds us of the relationship between a political leader and his supporters when he enjoys power; the moment he loses power his supporters also disappear; when he is in power, they often extol him to earn his pleasure and severely criticize him when the political leader is not in power; speak well of him in his front, but speak ill of him on his back.
A Queen Bee though enjoys power is wary or suspicious of other bees surrounding him; similarly, a political leader quite often faces many ordeals from his enemies. Mark Twain through his study of Bees also put forth the view in his inimitable style that a bee is a master of the fool in this world. Perhaps while drawing a parallel between the bee and the human beings, he insinuates that just like the bee, man is also a master of the fool in this world.
While the Queen Bee remains idle except laying the eggs, if you call it to work, the male bees also remain lazy. The female bees or virgins numbering 50,000 or 1,00,000 alone work in a beehive and the division of labor employed in a beehive is highly specialized that can be equated with an American factory.
The pride of profession, without doubt, exists in a beehive because a bee which is doing a specific work will do no other work or it rather gets offended; in the same manner, if a cook or a butler is assigned any other work other than cooking, he or she will not be inclined to do that.
Mark Twain concludes that ‘pride of profession is one of the boniest bones in existence, if not the boniest. Without doubt, it is in the hive’