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The Ant and The Grasshopper
As a great short story writer of the 19th century of English literature, W. Somerset Maugham enjoyed tremendous popularity during his long literary career. In his long literary life he wrote a great number of literary pieces in different forms. Among them short stories are remarkable works and bear testimony to his artistic capacity. He is regarded as a master of short story. Of the stories “The Ant and The Grasshopper” deserves special mention in this regard. Maugham has presented two interesting characters here.
Maugham’s story bases itself on the well-known fable of La Fontaine of the same title. The exposition presents a brief summary of the fable, followed b the narrator’s expression of bias against the ant in La Fontaine’s story. Since in the exposition the narrator uses the fable to introduce his story of the Ramsay brothers, the reader’s expectations from the development of the plot are already determined to a certain extent. The complication beings with the narrator meeting George Ramsay in the restaurant. From here onwards, the plot takes the form of recapitulation, where the reader is presented with a comprehensive account of the lives of the two Ramsay brothers, George and Tom, which are studies in contrast. As this part of the plot unfolds, the reader is able to match the characters of George and Tom to those of the ant and the grasshopper respectively. The narrator suspects from George’s behavior in the restaurant that Tom has committed the worst of his misdeeds, and wonders if he has gone to prison. The resolution however ends on a note of surprise for the narrator, and possibly the reader as well, as George’s anger in shown to the result of “in the workhouse”, as George had uncharitably hoped for. Thereby, the plot maintains the element of suspense, despite having disclosed a blueprint at the outset. What could have prepared the reader for this ending is the narrator’s personal bias against the ant that he reveals in the introduction, but the reader’s realization is likely to come only from hindsight. Suspense is also produced by the discontinuous or interrupted temporal flow; for instance, the narrator meets an angry George in the restaurant, but the reader along with the narrator does not find out why George in the restaurant, but the reader along with the narrator does not find out why George is angry, till the recapitulation in flashback-mode in completed.
When the story opens we are introduced to the two main characters as referring to them as George and Tom. The characters are introduced after a short introduction about the story of the ant and the grasshopper. In this fable we learn that the ant in the story is much like the character of George. The ant begins working away throughout the summer collecting his food and building his shelter in order to prepare for the upcoming winter. The Grasshopper on the other hand enjoys his summer months by “sitting on a blade of grass singing to the sun”. The characteristics of the grasshopper are also seen through the character of Tom. George is considered “hardworking, decent, respectable and straightforward”, whereas Tom is portrayed as an idle, worthless, dissolute, and dishonorable rogue”. We cannot help but feel drawn to sympathize with George’s character because throughout the story George is seen to be the individual that has worked for everything he has. We see evidence of this when the narrator states, “Poor George, only a year older than a fortnight’s holiday in the year for a quarter of a century. He was in his office every morning at nine thirty and never left it till six. He was honest, industrious, and worthy. He made a point of saving a third of his income and his plan was to retire at fifty-five to a little house in the country. Maugham uses this character to portray the preferred life that we as humans try to live each day. By going to work and supporting a family we are much like the ant in the story living each day in order to prepare ourselves for the future. Within the story Maugham created Toms character to portray the characteristics of the grasshopper. “He stopped working and wanted to enjoy himself. He had little money and he spent two happy years in the various.
George and Tom are brothers but they differ from each other in their nature and attitude to life. Of them George Ramsay is elder and Tom Ramsay was younger. The former was fifty but looks like sixty. On the other hand, the later was forty-six but looks only thirty-five. In the story Ramsay is the ant and saves the money for future by working hard, and Tom Ramsay is the grasshopper, who never saved anything for future but wanted to enjoy luxurious life. In order to serve his own purpose, he did not hesitate to exploit his brother and take money from his friends. He found it amusing to spend money in luxuries. He maintained a hedonistic attitude to life. He used to engage himself in gambling, racing, philandering with the beautiful girls, dancing and eating in most costly restaurants. He dressed tastefully and beautifully.
On the other hand George Ramsay was always serious and punctual in the performance of his duties and responsibilities. He was never late in reaching his office and never left his place earlier. He was a good father and a good husband too. He was honest, hardworking and worthy. He was always anxious about his brother’s future. He always tried to protect their family image and prestige. As a respectable lawyer he always aimed at taking good care of his brother, Tom. But at one stage his brother went out of his control. He was the black sheep of the family and thus unscrupulous and dishonest Tom becomes an object of great trouble to George Ramsay. But the irony of fate is that at the end of is career he lived a modest living by modest income. But the idle, dishonest, worthless and rogue Tom married an old lady another in country. The lifelong hard work, commonsense and wisdom did not pay George properly and richly. Rather his scapegrace brother earned a lot by dint of his crafty and calculated marriage.
We are thus brought to conclusion that Maugham has presented the reality of life in this modern world. Honesty, wisdom, industry and commonsense are not always paid properly in this modern world. Through the difference of these two characters, Maugham has shown the hard labor of George like the ant, who paid only modestly whereas the singing grasshopper enjoyed his life, through by crafty means, luxuriously.