Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Argentine Ant” is written in a style of scrupulous realism. Its descriptions are given in precise, simple language that is utterly clear and, in its surface meaning, unambiguous. The reader has no doubts about what is happening; what it means is another matter, and that level of ambiguity is actually reinforced by the clarity of Calvino’s presentation. For example, Captain Brauni’s activities in building his increasingly intricate ant-trapping devices are easily followed, and even their most complicated workings are clearly presented. It is what Brauni’s activities signify that is puzzling: Are they actions for their own sakes, or do they represent something universal in human nature or human society? In a similar fashion, Signor Baudino, the local representative of the Argentine Ant Control Corporation, is described in a short, precise vignette, making him an easily imaginable individual. That description, however, emphasizes his antlike appearance. Does this mean that Baudino, and perhaps the other characters in the story, has somehow become like the ants? Can this identification be extended to include modern human beings in general? The very simplicity of the prose that suggests such a connection denies an easy answer.

Calvino’s deceptively forthright style presents its most subtle considerations in its treatment of the ants, which makes it difficult to understand if they are symbolic and, if so, what they represent. For example,...

(The entire section is 410 words.)