What does the epigraph in the first chapter of The Secret Life of Bees mean?
Let's start with the definition of an epigraph. It's a quote at the beginning of a chapter that offers insight into the chapter's message.
For The Secret Life of Bees, the epigraph is:
"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."
It's important at this point to gain deeper understanding into how a bee colony works. You have the queen, the drones, and the workers. The queen's job is to reproduce, or have children in a way. The drones must mate with the queen to ensure reproduction happens. The workers do everything else. They build the honeycomb, guard the hive, and gather food from outside the hive. If the queen dies or goes away, the drones and workers have no queen to support, so there is no reason for them to stay.
In the novel, Lily runs away from home. Why does she feel the need to run away? Her mother's dead, and she's desperate to become closer to her. Think of Lily's mom as the queen bee. Without her to run the household, the household falls apart, and there's no reason to stay.