Bee and I

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The following is the final assignment from senior year of high school in English class.

The essay

More than anything, the sight of bees signals the arrival of summer. The gentle susurrus of the grass is no longer adequate, nor is the basking neighbor’s cat. Instead, one finds a row of children, each holding in hand a string to whose opposite end is attached a bee. Bees on strings immediately builds in one a certain resentment toward the children who are their masters, for bees are among the freest bundles of life around. No one, for instance, complains about a dog who has been chained to a pole, and the correct way to walk a dog is to chain it and pull, as is known. Felines are fine too and I have seen not a few of them affixed to their rightful masters’ leash. Small children are even more problematic than these animals, and require delicate assertiveness; hence are they attached directly to their mothers. It is not, however, proper to chain such a free-feeling creature as the bee. It is thus this blatant disguise of the violation of their autonomy as some childsplay which upsets the mind and provokes an image of summer.

But once leashed, even bees are not exempt from harsh treatment; they are readily reduced to the likes of dogs, cats, and humans. The merest turbulence in the hand of a child can cause a bee to fly against the direction of its intention. The excited string of children all hack at the same bush, their oily bugnets in hand, trying to secure for themselves the comforting presence of a bee. Once caught, a bee struggles in the net as a child nervously shakes the net to paralyse the bee. It is the momentary hesitation which the child exploits that allows a loop to be tied around the bee. The confused wings of the bee presently search the air to escape an anxiety, but this is met by a tug which denies such whims. A lucky bee may find their noose too loose and fly off, but the others may be stuck for up to twelve years. “To be a bee is not to be”, the children cry.

The bees that have become thus stuck in time must crawl this fabric so as not to trip. In time, moreover, the morbid minds of the children will approach those of the vermins they truly are. A child who has lost a bee, for instance, will complain that now a string remains unused. Rather than mustering an effortful swipe at the vital bush, instead the string becomes attached to a bee whose fate had already previously been determined by a string. Here, then, we find a bee on whose abdomen two loops transpire. It does not stop here. The two strings now dually pull on the bee, slicing away at its heart. Often at this stage a bee may act antically to distract itself, but we all know it is henceforward damned to eternal mediocrity: one loop or other will rub too hard, and the bee is stripped of its prised speculum. The child, meanwhile, has indulged its penchant for quick cruelty.

The bee will now likely despise its fatuous demeanor, as, day in, day out, it is encountered by distinct strands of thought. On its own the bee has separable differential ambitions, none of which are realized. The futile frivolity of life frowns upon the bee, as it enters the next stage of this comedic torture. The bee, stripped of any psychological defense, now readily submits to the hivemind impressed upon by the children. A maze of sorts is now presented, through which the bee is prodded: first through this cave, now onto the next, and so on. All the rooms are full of other bees, all in apparent competition. The good ones, they say, are pollinated with compliments, while the bad tend to begin losing limbs, whence they are sorted into bins by the degree of their infirmity. There is even a special room, one can heard said, where the bees with no legs lie to wait out their days. But here all the bees are serious. Each one, even while being a bee, is trying not to seem that they are a bee. Even their waggle dance is mechanical and without fragrance. “What is there to do here?” one is tempted to ask. The reply is constant. “We are almost to the ivy tower.” With this, all the bees return to work.

I begin to tire of relating this. I could, of course, detail each loop through which the bees pass, or all the stripes the good ones rightly earn. But I feel it not to be my duty. I now only recall the sorry tale of one accomplished bee who managed an escape. Its movements by then were full of prolixity, and, I might generously add, eager. I then witnessed the bee flying once more into a net held by a child. Ah, yes, it is summer again.

Statement of Intent

For my You Are Here project, I emulated the essay style of Virginia Woolf. I especially considered the discursive narrative style she often utilizes for her essays, but in addition to this I considered the sounds of the words in my essay, which came about mostly through the use of alliteration (there are fourteen in the whole piece) and careful phrases (also fourteen). I also used an overly formal writing style for my essay, which emulates Woolf’s formal writing style, characterized by her erudition. This formal writing style is meant to allude to Jorge Luis Borges as well; this is also apparent in the title of the piece.

The essay is actually intended to mock Woolf’s style (quite) a bit, and the content of the essay parodies that of Woolf’s essays. The main character of my essay is a bee, which, like Woolf’s moth, is described as being “among the freest bundles of life around”. The essay, however, does not trace the bee’s death, but rather laboriously meditates on its dull life. The use of puns (which emulates Woolf’s style to some extent) is excessive and will appear comical to the reader for this excessiveness more than the content of each individual pun. This technique, moreover, alludes to Waiting for Godot by Beckett, as by the end of the essay the reader has experienced the boredom of crawling through such a thick layer of overt humor. Even the content of the essay alludes to Beckett’s work because the bee is attached to a string, much like Lucky’s attachment to Pozzo in the play.

The long sentences and complex phrasing used throughout the essay is meant, as mentioned earlier, to parody both Woolf and Borges. A simple phrase would do in all cases, yet an unnecessarily complicated execution is substituted instead, creating a sense of detachment. Moreover the pompous mood as explored throughout the essay is intended to generate a sense of elevation for the reader: the reader sees themselves as being above the narrator (for seeing through the formal style), who is themselves above the bees (for observing them). There is a profound irony, however, as the bees depict the very readers who scorn them.

Ultimately the essay expresses indignation at the rigidity of the bureaucratic social structure of our world (there are hints scattered throughout the essay—fourteen in all). The flowery techniques serve as mere distractions. The final paragraph explains it well enough, with “I begin to tire of relating this”. The writer is indeed tired of writing, and the reader of reading. Somewhere far, in addition to the echo of “Ah, yes, it is summer again”, one can hear the words “They don’t know when to stop”.