The Buzz About “The Mother Hive”

Last week I read Jack London’s short story, “The Strength of the Strong”, which was a reply to Rudyard Kipling’s attack on Socialism in the form of his short story, “The Mother Hive”.  This week I read “The Mother Hive” and liked it just as well as London’s story.

As the title would suggest, the story’s setting is a bee hive with a certain working order that maintains the life of each individual bee.  One day, a negligent guard bee lets in a dreaded Wax Moth.  Throughout the hive’s existence, the bees have been warned that a Wax Moth that infiltrates their world will destroy their working order and eventually will destroy their world.  The Wax Moth begins to tell the bees that their work and order isn’t necessary, that the traditions of the hive are simply outdated and that the bees could have just as much of a good life by rejecting the traditions with which they have been living.  One bee, Melissa, sees the error of the Wax Moth’s ideas but is unable to prevent the majority of the hive from buying into them.  As a result, the bees end up eating parts of the hive that are not meant to be eaten and giving birth to strangely shaped baby bees which continue to eat the hive.  Melissa is able to persuade only a few bees to secretly raise up a Princess Bee to replace the current corrupted Queen Bee.  As the hive becomes increasingly decayed, the Bee Master eventually burns it while Melissa, the Princess and the few bees in Melissa’s camp “swarm” to the Oak Tree to start a new hive and a new life.

The story is written as a fable, almost a fairy tale, and stands up with the best of them.  It’s beautifully written and is probably one of the best stories by Kipling that I’ve read.  The way he is able to take the natural world and infuse it with a battle for good and evil is amazing.  The burning of the hive by the Bee Master is painted brilliantly in sweeping apocalyptic prose.  I have a feeling that perhaps the politics involved may have in some way kept it from being thought of as a great story in some circles.  I have not done exhaustive research as to the specific circumstances or events that may have prompted Kipling to write this story.  The only information I could come up with was that the story was his attack on Socialistic ideas that he thought were infiltrating his society.  The story itself does not specify the Wax Moth as a Socialist; it simply shows the Wax Moth undermining the traditions that have kept the hive going.

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If I would recommend these two stories to anyone, I would probably suggest reading “The Mother Hive” first and then read London’s “The Strength of the Strong”.  The idea that Jack London would stand up for socialism was a little surprising to me.  His characters all seem to be rugged individualists that pull themselves up by their boot straps.  It’s difficult to imagine Wolf Larsen in The Sea Wolf as a socialist.  At the same time, I’m reminded that many of London’s rugged individualists end up dead.  I plan on reading biographies of London and of Kipling in the near future, perhaps this will shed some light on their lives and political beliefs.

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