How would you define the queen bee in The Secret Life of Bees?
You might want to answer this question by refering to the quotes that the author uses to start each chapter, each of which refers to a work of non-fiction about bees and beekeeping. For example, consider the quote that the author uses to introduce Chapter Twelve and the theme of queen bees, which of course is relevant to certain characters in this excellent book:
If the queen were smarter, she would probably be hopelessly neurotic. As is, she is shy and skittish, possible because she never leaves the hive, but spends her days confined in darkness, a kind of eternal night, perpetually in labour... Her true role is less that of a queen than mother of the hive, a title often accorded to her. And yet, this is something of a mockery because of her lack of maternal instincts or the ability to care for her young.
The queen bee is essential to the hive, as all the bees would die without their queen, and we see in this quote she can be described as a kind of mother figure who continually gives birth and is protected by her bees. Of course, you need to be aware of the way that the novel relates the figure of the queen bee to other characters, in particular in this chapter Deborah, Lily's mother, who, like the queen bee, is rather lacking in her maternal skills as Lily finds out.