What’s All the Buzz About? Deconstructing the Binary Themes in “The Drone King”

Kyler Evanovich

Vonnegut’s “The Drone King” seems to be a story of a man’s decline and ultimate failure in a rapid amount of time. Mr. Quick has run out of money and in a fit of desperation, he formulates a plan to use bee drones as messengers. He intends to create an all-male hive, a “bee Millennium Club” (Vonnegut), free from the tyranny of what he seems to perceive as a cruel world. A world run by heartless female worker bees. To no one’s surprise, the project fails as all the drones return to their original hives to fulfill their breeding purpose and therefore die. Mr. Quick leaves in disgrace. However, there is a single bee, battered and worn, who delivers the message successfully. This whole event, however, would not be possible without the roles of both female workers and male drones.  The theme of male vs. female is broken down quickly by the fact that they define each other, and therefore one is useless without the other. The text deliberately undercuts its meaning to showcase the absurdity of gender constructs by demonstrating the fluidity of their proposed roles. The idea of things being black or white is undone by the demonstration that things are more fluid than that binary.

The prosperity of the millennium club is a facade. The investment counselor says, “Prosperity beat me to the Millennium Club by about 100 years” (Vonnegut). What he seems to be saying is that prosperity lingers there still. Further on, he mentions that the place has him feeling at peace. He says, “I felt as though I’d just finished two brandies and a good cigar” (Vonnegut). Does he feel sedated? Relaxed? We could take “at peace” to mean at rest, as in dead. This could be taken as the Millennium Club being a grave. There seems to be a slowness. So, there is this underlying theme of decline in the description of the club. This decline can be reinforced if we consider what could be meant when the old man guarding the foyer says, “No Woman and No flowers past the desk” (Vonnegut). Flowers could be looked at as a verb, which would mean for something to prosper. The clock was stopped at the time of President Coolidge’s death. Coolidge’s term was marked by general prosperity in what they were calling the “Coolidge prosperity” (Friedel). At the time of his retirement “the time the disaster of the Great Depression hit the country” (Friedel). Considering this, the slow progress and even the idea of a grave could be reflected in the grandfather clock, and by extension, Coolidge’s death. So here we are in the Millennium Club, a place for gentlemen only, that seems to be falling apart. This undermines Quick’s later idea of creating an all-male hive by making Quick “eat crow” when his boastfulness of ideas and innovation of man fall flat. So, when he proposes that his all-male hive will be the next big thing, Mr. Quick fails to recognize that he is setting himself for failure because he is creating the same environment for the bees that he finds himself in. No flowers or women. One without the other falls apart. Mr. Quick when he asks, “when is a drone not a drone?” We can conclude that a drone is not a drone when there is no worker bee.

Sheldon Quick’s disdain for the females of the animal kingdom proves his reliance upon them. In the spirit of insects, his relationship can even be considered parasitic. We can say this because Quick’s disdain for the female bees defines his plan. His schedule revolves around the time when the Queen takes flight. He does not take the males before the mating ritual. He takes advantage of the natural order of the bees and seeks to find a new purpose for the males. Without the female bees, he has no one to save, for no one is in danger. Without the spiral dance of death, there is no moment for him to be the Scarlet Pimpernel. The drones, when given their task, do not separate themselves from the natural order and when given the chance they take a flight to mate with a queen. This also mirrors the reliance on the opposite gender to define their purpose. They then return home, and the “slaughter” of the bees takes place. His plan falls to the mercy of nature just as he had relied upon it to save him. The stereotypical belief that women rely upon a man is undercut by the reversal of the roles seen here. Even this binary of a woman needing a man can be further dissected in that the “drones rely upon the workers for food” (Free).

Sheldon Quick’s portrayal appears to be similar to that of the drones, but alternatively, he can be seen fulfilling the role of a worker or even a queen. Both Quick and the bees are described as lazy when they meet for the first time by the unnamed investment counselor. When watching the mating ritual, he remarks on how he thinks the bigger ones should be stronger and defeat them. Mr. Quick replies with “The big ones have no sting” (Vonnegut). It could be said that the tall Mr. Quick also has no sting. He is near the end of his time at the club and lacks any punch and pizazz. We see that he himself has been stung. What is interesting further about this fact is “The behavior of workers toward a drone appears to depend upon his age.” (Free). Older drones are attacked and forced out of the hive, and his old age Mr. Quick must also leave the millennium club, his own hive. In the similar fashion of drones, we are told by the old waiter that Mr. Quick lounges around the club just like the drones who “spend nearly threequarters of their time whilst inside the hive in periods of apparent inactivity” (Free). However, this can be broken up by looking at Mr. Quick’s actions. Mr. Quick is more like a Worker Bee in his ferocity. This tenacity is even reflected in his name, Quick. He is eager to save his fortunes and so he takes on this matronly role as he scoops up the drones before they are murdered. He even builds his hive to raise and feed them. He feeds them because, once again, drones cannot make their honey. These actions separate him further from the role of a lay about drone as he takes on these traditional feminine qualities of nurturing and being more receptive to the bees.

The opposition created between Mr. Quick and the investment counselor gives us insight into the tension caused by idealism and cynicism. These two ideas’ focus and their focus on the opposite extremes prove their uselessness in progress. The two opposing forces fail to come together to create a solution. The investment counselor appears to be more privileged in the sense that he can see through what he perceives to be an awful business venture. However, he is somewhat pessimistic in opposition to Quick’s ideas. The counselor: his job is to “counsel”, but he offers no advice, only criticism. He does not even point out the flaws; he merely asks a set of broad questions to almost mock Quick. He is privileged to have the experience and information as to what a successful business premise looks like but fails to show this. Alternatively Quick is a bit foolish, and he recognizes this. Rather than diversifying, he is narrow-minded and thinks that a great idea alone will be what makes him money. But a great idea needs equally great action. Quick is all talk and his narrow-minded thinking that optimism alone will carry his success is misplaced. The failure of both parties falls on their polarization and their lack of acknowledgment that there has to be a middle ground.

The venture is unsuccessful because the whole project relies on one part of a whole. It is this glorification of a primary aspect that ultimately fails because that which defines the other is absent. In this sort of symbolic way, this Idea in Deconstructionism that things are not black or white but rather black AND white is seen when the drones take flight and join the queen. We can spend time deciding the hierarchy of importance between drones and workers, but at the end of the day they are both bees and the hive needs both. Quick works hard to define their purpose in a task, but he is doing just what despises. When it comes to communication and gender, there are no “quick” fixes: This act of him giving a “purpose” is no different than their one purpose of mating with the queen. So in the end, the reliance on the extreme in a proposed binary ignores the necessity of one to define the other. Thus, the unavoidability of the use of both parts as a whole.


Works Cited

Free, J. B. “The Food of Adult Drone Honeybees (Apis Mellifera).” Brit. J. Animal Behaviour 5 (1957): 7-11.

“Calvin Coolidge.”, 16 Jan. 2021,

Vonnegut, Kurt. “A Newly Discovered Kurt Vonnegut Story.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 10 Jan. 2020,


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Beginnings and Endings: A Critical Edition Copyright © 2021 by Liza Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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