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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 447

In Italo Calvino's 1960 short story "The Argentine Ant," the narrator and his wife move to an unnamed village (rural and near the sea). The location of Italy is suggested by the titles "Signor" and "Signora" used for various characters. They are following the recommendation of a certain carefree Uncle Augusto, who has anticipated their move to this region and claims that there is good living to be enjoyed here. According to the narrator, Uncle Augusto led him to believe that jobs were not too difficult to find in this village and that the region offered an excellent lifestyle. What Uncle Augusto did not mention is the overwhelming plenitude of ants.

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The narrator, along with his wife and child, moves into a very small home which he is renting from one Signora Mauro. She gives them a thorough tour of the house but does not mention the ants (though the narrator sees her examining the walls). During their first night in their new home, the family, including the baby, is overtaken by ants. They sleep fitfully, and the narrator's wife feels that she cannot properly settle in with the furniture until the ant issue is addressed.

The next day, the narrator approaches their neighbors, Signor Reginaudo and his wife, Claudia. They laugh knowingly about the ants and offer him a variety of poisons they have ("Prosafan," "Mirminec," "Titobrofit," and others). They admit that these poisons are a temporary solution, but they recommend that he visit a man known as "the Captain" to rid their home of ants.

The narrator tracks down this Captain Brauni, who shows him an elaborate set-up with ropes, fish, and petroleum used to attract and then poison the ants in sequence. The narrator is impressed by this set-up, but the Captain admits that killing worker ants is no good; the queen ants must be starved. The Captain also cautions them against the "ant man."

This "ant man" arrives at the home of the narrator (who remarks that the man even looks like an ant). His method involves coating the room with poisoned molasses in order to attract and then kill the ants. Soon after his visit, the narrator's child gets an ant in his ear as a result of molasses accidentally being spread onto his bed. The narrator's wife goes crazy and tracks down the ant man in order to choke him. Other women of the neighborhood claim to support her but later back down, making his wife seem crazy.

The narrator resolves never to complain about the ants again. He takes his wife and son to the seaside. There they watch children playing and people working nearby, and they enjoy the fresh air.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 582

Acting on the advice of his uncle, a man moves his wife and infant son to a small rented cottage in a Ligurian coastal village in Italy. At first, all seems idyllic, but on their first night, as they prepare for bed, they discover that their kitchen is swarming with ants. “Argentine ants,” the narrator informs his wife, and he remembers being told that this is the country of the Argentine ant. After the narrator calms his wife, they retire to bed; they are awakened by the cries of their baby and find his bed is filled with ants.

The next day, the narrator considers the situation, noting that the yard, which he had planned to convert to a garden, is alive with ants. He visits Signor Reginaudo, their nearest neighbor, for advice, and finds that the old man and his wife have used, and found practically useless, every ant spray, poison, and powder available. Still, the Reginaudos are not discouraged and actually laugh at themselves, the ants, and the ridiculous situation. They arm the narrator with a variety of concoctions, carefully chosen to be harmless to the baby, and return him to his family.

The narrator then rushes off to see Captain Brauni, another neighbor with his own way of fighting the ants. Captain Brauni has transformed his house and yard into a maze of ant traps. Some ants are destroyed when they fall off a narrow wire into a can of gasoline; he kills an average of forty ants a minute, Captain Brauni says with almost comic precision. Many other devices are scattered about. Captain Brauni orders his wife to bring out a sack; it is filled with dead ants. His insanely rational plan is to kill enough worker ants so that the queens will begin to starve and leave their nests; only then can the problem be solved. He promises to construct a device for the narrator.

As the days progress, the narrator and his wife discover that neither poisons nor contraptions are effective. One afternoon a strange man comes through their property, leaving small saucers of molasses scattered about. It is Signor Baudino, known as the ant man, from the Argentine Ant Control Corporation. Supposedly he is spreading poison, but most residents agree with Signor Reginaudo that the corporation is actually feeding the ants to keep business thriving.

The narrator and his wife call on Signora Mauro, their landlady, to ask why she failed to mention the ants before they rented the house. Signora Mauro insists that a truly clean house should have no problem with ants; hers certainly does not. As they sit in her large, dark house, they notice that she is subtly moving and twitching; the narrator realizes that ants are crawling under her clothes and that her house is even more thoroughly infested than their own.

When they return to their house, they find an ant has crawled into the baby’s ear. It is flushed out with warm oil, but the situation is intolerable for the wife. She rushes down the street with a crowd of women behind her and the narrator tagging along; they arrive at the office of the Argentine Ant Control Corporation and confront the ant man, who first makes general denials and then runs off. There is nothing to be done. That evening, the couple and their baby walk down to the coast, to the sea and a fresh wind but no ants. They sit and watch the ocean.

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