Judith Wright

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What are the qualities of the ant-lion and the meat ant in "The Ant-Lion" by Judith Wright?

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In this very short story, two children throw a meat ant—also known as a gravel ant, a large ant that appears throughout the continent of Australia—into a sandy pit for an ant-lion larvae to destroy. The children watch in curious horror as the ant-lion larvae attacks and kills the meat ant.

The qualities of the ant-lion are that it is heavy, “grub-like,” and “ruthless.” The narrator also creates metaphors for the ant-lion: its relentless jaws are like “a dingo harassing a sheep,” it is “a little machine,” and the ant-lion is “a tool for some energy that possessed him.”

By contrast, the meat ant is personified as “obstinate” and “puzzled” at what is happening to it; it “rushed along” the stick as Max carries it to the pit and makes frenzied attempts to escape the pit once it sees the ant-lion. The other ants who have not been thrown into the pit with the ant-lion are portrayed running “placidly about their business” while the lone meat ant in the pit is being dismembered.

It is interesting to note that both creatures share a quality: silence. Morvena feels the silence is “the strangest thing,” given the violence the children are witnessing.

[Note: this story was published in 1951 in The Bulletin, an Australian magazine. As such, anachronisms of spelling and grammar in quotes have been left in their original form. I have linked to an Australian National Library scan of the original publication so that you can see its presentation. This adds to how we can think about the story as a piece of mid-century Australian literature.]

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