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Literature / The Grasshopper and the Ants

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"The Grasshopper and the Ants" is a famous Aesop's 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, the days are bright and warm. The Grasshopper hops from place to place, singing n' fiddling all the day long. Henote  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 another. Heedless, the Grasshopper plays on. Autumn comes with harvest time, and though the days grow shorter, there's food in plenty, and the Grasshopper is as adamant as before that there is plenty of time.

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Jump Cut to wintertime; the days are short and cold and there's not a bite of food to be found. 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, and some versions include him offering to play music (or teach music to the ants' children) in exchange for food and shelter. Three different endings are possible:

  • The often utilised ending has the ants, satisfied the Grasshopper is repentant, 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 original ending has 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.
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  • 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.

The tale was the inspiration for the film A Bug's Life, and also inspired a Silly Symphonies from Disney.


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Tropes:

  • All Work vs. All Play: The Ants represent All Work, while the Grasshopper represents All Play.
  • An Aesop: Naturally. But remarkably, this story's Aesop changes quite dramatically depending on the ending. Most schools usually go for the first or third ending due to wanting to teach a lesson about compassion. Plus you know, the second is pretty morbid.
  • Beast Fable: The grasshopper represents creative, bohemian types (or useless freeloaders, depending on your view), and the ants stand in for folks who work hard at boring jobs.
  • Disneyfication: Many modern adaptations prefer the outcome of the ants taking pity on the Grasshopper and offering him shelter for the one winter, but with the stern warning to work for his living from now on. In some others, the Grasshopper suffers the winter, but lives to learn from his mistakes and prepares for next winter.
  • Deconstruction: Disney seemed to be fond of playing around with this story:
    • The original Silly Symphonies adaptation has the worker ants taking pity on the Grasshopper (having held a fondness for his music beforehand). The Queen Ant harshly notes only those who work can share their keep...so the Grasshopper can play for them.
    • A Bug's Life had a darker deconstruction. The film's Grasshoppers just mug the ants for their food every winter. The story revolves around the ants mustering an army to stand up to them. However at the end, one of the Grasshoppers, Molt, leaves his former life of decadence to work in the circus as a strongman, because anybody is capable of change.
    • The Tigger Movie has a light retool of it as a side story. The other animals are too busy helping Tigger with his personal dilemma to prepare for the winter. The hard working Rabbit scolds them for this, but when things worsen he takes pity as well. For their loyalty however, Tigger afterwards supplies for them, compromising the two endings to show both sides can come out better looking out for each other.
    • In a Russian joke, the grasshopper (a female) passes the ant during the winter while she is wearing a fur coat and he is working hard wearing a torn coat and boots:
      Ant: Hey, grasshopper, where are you going?
      Grasshopper: It's boring, so I decided to go to some club, I heard there are all kind of famous writers assembling there today.
      Ant: Listen, if you'll see Krylovnote  there, tell him he's a bullshiter.
    • On The Muppet Show, Sam the American Eagle tries to tell the story in an attempt to provide some socially redeeming content to the show, constantly praising the ant while scorning the grasshopper. He is then surprised and disgusted when this version ends with the grasshopper moving to Florida and the ant getting stepped on.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The original ending in which the ants leave the Grasshopper to starve. Certainly disproportionate if the reader sees the Grasshopper as sympathetic, especially if the Grasshopper had offered to be a music-teacher to the Ants' children — which anyone will notice, is honest work for honest pay.
  • I Warned You: The Ants, usually regardless of which ending is used, will still be sure to remind the Grasshopper to learn from his previous misgivings.
  • Meaningful Echo: In the Silly Symphonies short, the Grasshopper sings the song "The World Owes Us A Living" (a theme later used for Goofy), which reflects his laidback lifestyle. Once he's allowed to stay with the ants in exchange for entertaining them, he changes his tune (most of his lyrics, actually) to "I Owe The World A Living", which now reflects his resolution to work hard.
  • No Sympathy: The Ants in the ending they offer no help for the Grasshopper. These days it is often seen as apathetic to leave some schmuck to die on principle he was lazy and unprepared.
  • Order Versus Chaos: The Ants are Order, the Grasshopper is Chaos.
  • Slobs vs. 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 vulnerable to the cruel world.


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