The Argentine Ant Analysis
Italo Calvino's "The Argentine Ant" is a portrayal of how group mentality and rumor can assume great power in small communities. The short story (published as part of a collection in 1957) tells of a young man and his wife who move to the Italian coast as a result of being told by the narrator's Uncle Augusto that this area affords a good lifestyle and plenty of opportunity for work. When the couple arrive, they rent a modest house and, upon their first night of sleeping, encounter an infestation of ants. They consult their well-meaning and friendly neighbors, the Reginaudos, as well as a local innovator, the eccentric Captain Brauni, for insights on how to manage these ants (which allegedly come from South America).
It is rumor that brought the couple to this spot, which seems to fall short of (the now absent) Uncle Augusto's claims. The narrator wonders if perhaps his own circumstances do not permit him to be happy, as he is responsible for a wife and child, while his uncle lived a carefree existence.
Rumor, too, compels him to see Captain Brauni, whom the Reginaudos designate as the individual most capable of solving the ant problem. When the narrator visits the captain, he finds an extensive and impressive apparatus used to poison the ants.
Rumor also warns the narrator of the "ant man." The ant man comes to the narrator's home and coats the house with poisoned molasses. When an ant gets into the baby's ear, it is not the direct fault of the ant man; however, the narrator and his wife have been turned against the ant man by the remarks of Captain Brauni and others in their village. The ant man's actions alone do not mark him as a malevolent figure; it is only the rumors of the townspeople that taint the narrator's opinion. The short story is overall a testimony to the power of group mentality.
Style and Technique
“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...
(The entire section is 731 words.)