A famous Aesops Fable
, whose allegorical stars are the high-living, fancy-free Grasshopper (sometimes called the Cicada) and the solid, industrious Ants of the anthill.
In midsummer, life is easy and food is aplenty. The Grasshopper hops from place to place, singing or fiddling all the day long. He makes fun of the ants, who waste the sunshine by working from dawn to dusk. They either coldly ignore him or warn that his pleasure will be paid, one way or the other. Heedless, the Grasshopper plays on.Fast-forward to wintertime
. The Grasshopper, shivering and starving, sees that in the anthill there's plenty of warmth and food. He knocks at the door and begs to be let in, offering to play music (or teach music to the ants' children) in exchange for food and shelter. Three different endings are possible:
- The ants take pity on him and bring him into the hill. He plays for them, and while the Grasshopper learns a lesson about hard work and responsibility, the Ants learn to have fun and loosen up, because neither extreme is healthy.
- The ants tell the Grasshopper that he should have prepared during the summer. Now that it's winter, let him sup on songs and dine on dancing. They slam the door in his face, leaving him to die in the snow, because everyone should reap what they sow.
- A notable third ending, written by Jacques-Melchior Villefranche, has the ants turning the Grasshopper away, but shortly after his departure the anthill is wiped out in a freak snowstorm. Now homeless and desperate, the ants beg shelter of their neighbors, the Honeybees. The queen of the honeybees at first repeats to them their own heartless words to the Grasshopper, and then lets them into the hive, where the Grasshopper is already providing music and being sheltered. The lesson here is the same as the first ending, with the added twist that the best laid plans can be wrecked by chance, so have compassion on others - you'd want the same for yourself.
Very loose inspiration for the film A Bug's Life
, and also inspired a Silly Symphony
Tropes found in this work include:
- All Work vs. All Play
- An Aesop: Naturally. But remarkably, this story's Aesop changes quite dramatically depending on the ending.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Certainly disproportionate if the reader sees the Grasshopper as sympathetic.
- Family Unfriendly Aesop: The variation where the grasshopper starves is a valid moral, but jarring to those who believe in compassion. Some interpretations of the same ending may also suggest that the grasshopper represents artists and that they have no contribution to society.
- Order Versus Chaos: The Ants are Order, the Grasshopper is Chaos.
- Slobs Versus Snobs
- Starving Artist: The Grasshopper at the end. In turn, the symbol of the Grasshopper or Cicada is frequently joined to characters who are bohemian but liable to the cruel world.