Reader Response

The Bees Without a Queen

Ethan McCall

When reading Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “The Drone King,” most readers would come away from the story with the idea that Sheldon Quick is just a crazy businessman who invested in the wrong idea. I mean, what sane person would think that inventing carrier bees in a world with the wireless telegraph is a good idea? That’s just the thing though. No sane person would think that it’s a sound business idea. However, this story by Kurt Vonnegut likely speaks differently to a particular audience. This story’s implied readers are a specific demographic of men who call themselves Incels. While it at first appears to be a story that reflects with and represents the ideologies of Incels, it eventually reveals itself to be a critique of their worldview and ideologies.

Now, before I go any further, I must first shed some light on what an Incel is and the community that they belong to. Incel is a term that means “involuntarily celibate.” This online community of Incels is comprised of men who are bitter about their lack of sexual experience, and they blame women for it. The men belonging to this group also blame women and feminism for the “downfall” of society. They believe that women have dominated the world and now unfairly discriminate against men, thus robbing them of the social dominance in society that they believe men should have (Glace 288-289).

The character of Sheldon Quick in Vonnegut’s story is eerily similar to these men who call themselves Incels. Sheldon Quick is a man who has enjoyed a significant level of success and wealth throughout his life. One would think that given his circumstances, he has almost everything that he could ever want. However, from his first appearance, his biases become clear. When the stockbroker enters the Millennium Club to meet Mr. Quick, he is stopped at the front desk and informed that there are no women allowed into the club (Vonnegut). As a reader, this immediately sets off alarm bells in my head and paints an unflattering picture of Sheldon Quick. The Millennium Club and its patrons very clearly have some very negative views on women if they won’t even allow them to enter the building. However, someone from the Incel community would very likely agree with and praise this rule for how it puts women back into their place.

Rather than women dominating men and taking over their spaces as Incels believe women have been doing for quite some time now, they aren’t even allowed in the same spaces as men anymore. This lack of proximity lets men be themselves and innovate as they are supposed to without being disturbed by the lesser sex. To Incels, women have no inherent value aside from being able to have sex with men. This mindset can be seen in Glace’s article on Incels. When women have expressed that men who only want sex are disgusting, Incels have responded callously: “[W]hat the fuck else is there to want from such a vapid shell of a person? Your only redeeming quality is that you can lay still and take a dick. Why are you surprised?” (Glace, Taking the Black Pill 294-295). However, these roles are swapped within the world of the bees. The male bees are exterminated once they fulfill their only function of mating with the queen (Vonnegut). The reason that Mr. Quick, and by extension the Incel, are so interested in the plight of the male bee is because they are being discriminated against in the same way that Incels discriminate against women.

This is another sentiment that Incels latch onto and agree with. They believe that men are the wrongfully oppressed gender, and women have stolen their rightful place in society (Glace 288-289). This idea that men are being oppressed by women is further expanded upon when Mr. Quick takes the stockbroker up to the roof where his bees are being kept. When they arrive on the roof, they come across the scene of large bees stumbling out of their hives being hunted and killed by smaller bees. As Mr. Quick saved the large bees, the stockbroker asked him what was happening. Mr. Quick replies that it’s a bee war between the large males and the smaller female bees. When the stockbroker asks which bees the hives belonged to originally, Mr. Quick says that “Your question is good enough to be chiseled in granite for all time to ponder” (Vonnegut). From this scene, it becomes very clear how Mr. Quick feels about the plight of the male bees, and by extension, the human males of our world.

Mr. Quick believes that males have constructed society as we know it. They’ve worked tirelessly to construct the foundation of the world. However, now women have come in and pushed the men out of their positions of power, thereby taking the world for themselves. An Incel reader reading this would most likely be agreeing with Mr. Quick and his views on the world. This way of thinking about the role of women is very much in line with how Incels think about women. They have unrightfully taken the roles of leadership that men used to have, and are now discriminating against them, exactly how the male bees from the hives that they built are being pushed out from their homes and being torn to pieces by the female bees.

Much like Incels, Mr. Quick has determined that men are under attack from women, and drastic measures need to be taken in order to save the male species from this unrightful persecution. Due to this unfair exclusion of male bees from their hives, Mr. Quick is determined to save them, because much like the human male, Mr. Quick believes that male bees will be safe from female tyranny if they are kept away from women. He does this by creating a new hive for them that consists only of other male bees that have been forced out of their hives. In their new hives, they aren’t forced to do anything or be productive. According to Mr. Quick, the reason that the male bees can enjoy their lives in such leisure is that they are free from the demanding and thankless females (Vonnegut). This is very similar to the Millennium Club to which Mr. Quick belongs due to the fact that in both the new hive and the Millennium Club, no women are allowed. Mr. Quick’s observations about bees have poisoned his views on women.

From this point on, a reader from the Incel community would likely expect that Mr. Quick would continue to fight against the female rule that the world has come to be subjected to. However, subverting these expectations of the reader, the story starts to slowly show that Mr. Quick’s philosophy is incorrect. When Mr. Quick tells the stockbroker that they will only have to provide each of their bees with a penny’s worth of honey for an entire year, the stockbroker asks a very astute question: why don’t the male bees make their honey? This is when Mr. Quick reveals that it’s only the female workers that make honey. The stockbroker then points out the obvious. “Huh. I guess that’s why the female workers knock off the males, eh? The males are nothing but a drain on the community” (Vonnegut). This is a key moment in the story that shows just how biased Mr. Quick is. Even though he knows that these male workers contribute nothing and instead are only a burden on the colony, he still believes that the female bees clearing them out of the hive is unjust.

This echoes back to his situation. He was left a large sum of money by his father and has spent his life doing anything but work. Mr. Quick sees himself in the male bees. They’re both useless and provide nothing to their respective societies, yet Mr. Quick thinks that they both deserve a respected spot in the societies that they’ve contributed nothing to. A reader from the Incel community would likely be affected negatively by this development in the story. While the story was at first reiterating and reaffirming Incel ideology, all of a sudden, it’s pointing out flaws in their beliefs.

The ideals of Mr. Quick, and by extension the Incel, continue to be challenged, and ultimately proven wrong, at the press conference that he holds to demonstrate how bees can live in a male-only hive. According to a study by Nicolae-Sorin Drăgan on political narratives, telling a story means to lie or speak falsely. This story is a distortion of an otherwise uncomfortable reality and lying (70). This sort of story is exactly what Mr. Quick tells to the press during his conference. He goes on about how the only crime that male bees have committed is that they can’t make honey, yet they are discriminated against and killed for it. He declares that this system needs to be stopped for the safety of bees, but it’s obvious at this point that Mr. Quick is also talking about human women as well as bees.

However, despite his grandiose speech to the press, when Mr. Quick releases the bees so that they can go to their all-male colony, they don’t. Instead, they go back to the colonies that are run by the female bees and are subsequently killed. It’s at this point in the story that it subverts the expectations of the Incel reader about where the story was going. They were most likely expecting the story to praise Mr. Quick as a hero who was liberating men from the tyranny of females, but rather, the story shows Mr. Quick as a bitter old man who can’t accept his shortcomings and instead blames all of his problems on women and society as a whole. Thus, condemning Incels and their hatred of women, showing them that their lack of importance in society is their fault rather than a malicious plot by women to overthrow men.

While this story first appeared to agree with and support Incel beliefs, painting Mr. Quick to be a wise old man who has realized that women are the problem with society, as the story progresses, it shows that Mr. Quick is a lot of things, but wise isn’t one of them. Instead, he’s a man who was frightened by the social power of women increasing. Seeing this as a threat to men everywhere, Mr. Quick, in his attempt to prove that women were unnecessary, proved only that the ideals he and many Incels believe in are undeniably flawed and fundamentally wrong. This story uses the sympathy that Incel readers initially had for Mr. Quick as a way to challenge their beliefs. By the end of the story, when the character they supported so much is proven to be nothing but a sad man whose judgment was clouded by hate, Incel readers are encouraged to look inward and examine the beliefs that led Mr. Quick to this point and think about where their beliefs will take them. The story uses the downfall of Mr. Quick to inspire a change from the hateful ideology of Incels to something kinder and more tolerant.


Works Cited

Drăgan, Nicolae Sorin. “The Emotional Arcs of Political Narratives.” Bulletin of the Transilvania University of Braşov, Series IV: Philology & Cultural Studies 13.Suppl (2020): 69-86.

Glace, Alyssa M., Tessa L. Dover, and Judith G. Zatkin. “Taking the black pill: An empirical analysis of the “Incel”.” Psychology of Men & Masculinities (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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