What is the symbolism of the ants that are consumed by fire as Henry turns the burning log?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Chapter 41, the final chapter, Henry remembers seeing ants on a burning log right after he hears the devastating news that his child has been delivered stillborn. He meditates on the inevitability of death and thinks, "That was what you did. You died. You did not know what it was about. You never had time to learn." He thinks about ants he once saw on a log he put on a fire. He observed them scrambling to get away from the fire. While some were able to escape and head off in an unknown direction, most inadvertently went towards the fire: "Most of them went toward the fire and then back toward the end and swarmed on the cool end and finally fell off into the fire." The ants symbolize the inevitability of death; everyone around Henry will die (including Catherine shortly after this scene), and he knows that one cannot avoid death. People scramble to avoid death, much as the ants try to head away from the fire, but it catches up to them in the same way in which the ants, thinking they are heading away from the fire, wind up falling into it. Henry attempted to douse the fire with whiskey and only wound up steaming the ants to death, so his attempts at being a savior failed. He knows at this point that Catherine will also likely die, and there is nothing he can do about it.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial