Each chapter of The Secret Life of Bees begins with an epigram from a text about bees. Before chapter 1, it reads:
The queen, for her part, is the unifying force of the community; if she is removed from the hive, the workers very quickly sense her absence. After a few hours, or even less, they show unmistakable signs of queenlessness. –Man and Insects
This is allusion, of course, to Lilly's mom's death. In chapter 1 we learn how Lily shot her mother when she was four and, since then, has lived a "queenless" childhood, with no "unifying force" or feminine community.
As a "worker," Lilly has sensed her absence, going out to the peach orchard often to sift through her old shoebox full of memories. Since T. Ray gives not sense of direction in her life, the entire book serves as Lily's desire to find a surrogate mother. At the Boatright house, she finds three and the secret to her mother's past.