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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 350

Italian novelist and short story writer Italo Calvino's "The Argentine Ant" (originally written 1953) was published as part of a collection, Adam, One Afternoon and Other Stories, in 1957. The story follows a man who moves with his family to an unspecified locale on the coast of Italy. The novel's primary themes include the power of nature and marriage.

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The power of nature is shown primarily through the ant problem from which the man and his family—and the entire town—suffers. The ants have become the subject of elaborate poisons and entrapment mechanisms (such as those of the Reginaudos and Captain Brauni, respectively). The only respite from this naturally occurring problem (as, according to the narrator, the ants are native to South America) that the couple can find is when they take to the sea. Here they walk arm-in-arm with their appeased baby. The story suggests that a certain respect is owed to nature, and, furthermore, that the only antidote to nature is nature itself.

The narrator's wife is not named throughout the story. He clearly knows his wife very well, to the extent that he knows when she is being disingenuously pleasant (as with their neighbor, Signor Reginaudo). He is used to hearing her complain and describes her as a perpetual malcontent. The wife is portrayed entirely through the narrator's point of view (through first-person narration), and so his opinion is self-validated. According to the narrator, his wife accepts things "with submissive rancor." Nevertheless, his wife is enraged when their infant son is harmed by an ant owing to the oversight by the village "ant man." She leads a procession of women to avenge the infraction and begins to choke the man until her husband (the narrator) intervenes.

The circumstances of marriage are also portrayed through their neighbors, the Reginaudos. The narrator describes them as an "easygoing couple" and "very friendly." This joint behavior suggests that couples, to an extent, have a tendency to mirror one another's behavior. This theme is reinforced by the descriptions of Captain Brauni and his wife, both of whom are very thin and relatively stoical.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 467

Writing about “The Argentine Ant,” American author Gore Vidal said that the story “gives us the human condition today. Or the dilemma of modern man. Or the disrupted environment. Or nature’s revenge. Or an allegory of grace. Whatever.” A great part of the strength and appeal of Italo Calvino’s story is that it can plausibly support each of these interpretations, as well as others. At the same time, the details of setting, characters, and action are so realistically rendered that the story is securely anchored in reality; the reader has the visceral understanding that these events actually happened, or could have happened, in just the way Calvino recounts them, whatever elusive meaning they may possess.

Although the story can be interpreted on several levels, it is clear that it is an allegory of the difficulty for human beings to achieve freedom and choice. As Vidal implies, the world may be defined through a number of approaches: theological, philosophical, artistic, social, economic, or political. For each approach human beings are inherently limited. The...

(The entire section contains 817 words.)

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