The Ant and the Grasshopper by W. Somerset Maugham
In The Ant and the Grasshopper by W. Somerset Maugham we have the theme of justice, trust, fear, morality, embarrassment, happiness and struggle. Taken from his Collected Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Maugham may be exploring the theme of justice or rather the lack of it. George Ramsey has worked all his life and has set aside some money to provide for his retirement. He has been diligent and astute unlike his brother Tom. However rather than being satisfied that he will have a peaceful retirement George can’t believe that Tom has inherited a half a million pounds. There is a sense that George feels as though there has been an injustice done. It is very much the ant (George) versus the grasshopper (Tom). Just as the grasshopper made no provisions for the winter. Tom too made no provisions for his future though he still appears to have landed on his feet. The narrator’s reaction to Tom’s success in life is also interesting as it mirrors his feelings towards the ant. Whether it is insensitive of the narrator to laugh there is no disputing that he likes and supports Tom Ramsey. Something that is noticeable by the fact that the narrator attends dinners with Tom. If anything the narrator has been true throughout the story favouring the grasshopper over the ant.
It is also clear to the reader that George has struggled through life. Looking after his wife and family and at the same time making sure that he has a substantial pension to help him in retirement. Tom on the other hand has not struggled at all. He has gone from one calamity to another and has often been bailed out of trouble by George due to George’s fear of embarrassment. If anything George lives his life to a moral code while Tom on the other hand appears to live his life recklessly. It is also noticeable that Tom shows George no allegiance. His number one concern is living a good life, one that is subsidised by others. Regardless of the individual Tom’s number one concern is himself and his own happiness. He has borrowed money off not only George but others too and never paid any of the money back. To an outsider Tom might be considered to be untrustworthy. However he is charming enough that people find it easy to lend him money even though they may never get the money back. In modern terms Tom might be considered, rightly or wrongly, to be a lovable rogue or scoundrel. A man who charms people by deception yet the same people can’t help but like Tom’s character.
Tom also appears to have remarried due to the fact that his new wife is wealthy. There is no sense that he has changed his ways and has married for love. At all stages in the story the most important person in Tom’s life is Tom himself. He acts selfishly without consideration for others. However some critics may suggest that though Tom may be lax in morals he is only living his life as he wishes to live it. Something that most people would long to do. Tom is not confined or restricted to society’s views or morals. He is his own man even if he may be morally corrupt. In reality there are also times in the story in whereby Tom is simply playing on George’s fears. Which might suggest to some that the problem lies with George and not Tom. George at any stage of the story, should he have overcome any sense of embarrassment, could have refused Tom assistance. Tom does not mind embarrassing himself in order to profit while George looks upon some of Tom’s actions as being an embarrassment to him.
There is also no doubting that the happiest character in the story is Tom. Not only because he has inherited half a million pounds but because he has lived his life as he wants to. Even if that life has been at the expense of others. It is also ironic that though Tom has made no significant contribution to society he at the end of the story is the most successful of all the characters. That is if success is gauged by monetary worth. Which appears to be how George evaluates success. Something that becomes clear to the reader when George discusses with the narrator how much money he will have when he retires. This may be important as it suggests that both George and Tom have one thing in common. A love for money. Though money is a necessity in life both men are also aware of its power and its ability to influence others. George may feel as though he will be placed on a pedestal by others when he retires due to the fact that he has set aside so much money while Tom is obviously aware of the power of money. He has used money, other people’s money, to get what he wants in life.