Grasshopper stories

There’s a classic capitalist fairytale about how the grasshopper sings all summer, and dies of hunger in the late autumn, while the busy little ant saves up a store and is able to survive. We are to be busy little ants. It’s a fairytale that could use a little debunking.

Let’s start with the practical bits: Grasshoppers lay eggs, and the eggs survive the winter to hatch when temperatures rise. An adult grasshopper lives 51 days, give or take. Ants lay eggs that turn into larvae and pupate before becoming adult ants, and eggs are laid for a colony by the queen rather than by individuals as with grasshoppers. Queens can, according to Wikipedia, live for up to 30 years, workers from 1-3 years. Every creature out there has its own lifecycle and relationship with the seasons. These are strategies evolved over vast stretches of time. If all creatures tried to occupy the same niche, many would be less effective. For lots of insects, the adult is active in summer and dies when the seasons turn. It’s not about a work ethic, it’s about your species and what it does.

The moral we are encouraged to take from the story is to be afraid of the coming winter, and to work hard to prepare for it rather than wasting our time lounging about in the sun and doing something as pointless as singing. It is precisely this set of fears that keep us overworking, overproducing, and making unsustainable piles of detritus that we somehow convince ourselves are going to keep us safe.

Grasshoppers have a life expectancy you can measure in days, once they hatch. Ants may live for a couple of years. Humans get a number of decades, apart from those of us who don’t. Money may buy us a year or two at the end. Money invested carefully in living well throughout our lives will buy a few more years than that. In the end, no matter what we do, we die.

People are not grasshoppers, and we aren’t ants. We do need to provision ourselves a bit for the future, in most parts of the world. We do also need to sit in the sun and sing our songs once in a while, and this is just as important. A life spent trying to ward off the worst things that can happen is a life that may not have much actual life in it.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

8 responses to “Grasshopper stories

  • Argenta

    One of my favourite fables to rant against! Especially considering personal history — in Croatian, it is not a grasshopper but a cicada that dies. Which was, incidentally, my nick-name when I was young. Add to it a proclivity to enjoy stories instead of housework, and you can imagine why I hated the fable. I did at least one re-writing of the story, and am planning more, to make some sort of amends for the childhood trauma 😀

  • firespringsfolktales

    There’s an ancient Greek story (I wish I could re-find the source!) that says that grasshoppers were once people, but they got so very caught up in their singing that forgot to eat – and were transformed into grasshoppers so they could sing forever. Perhaps the moral to take from that is that you need balance in your life, because giving in entirely to one thing leads to damaging yourself … or perhaps to transformation into something … different.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    One of the advantages of getting old, is you suddenly realize that you are not certain if you have a future, or how long it might yet be. Add that to the knowledge that few of the things that actually harmed you, were thing that you had spent time worrying about, that even the few that were, worrying had not prevented them. So worrying had proven rather useless besides wasting time and energy that might have better used elsewhere.

    So this allows you to simplify existence. You wake up in the morning and only deal with whatever stuff that comes you way, then go to bed, and forget about it all. If you wake up the next morning, then repeat the process.

  • Lisa

    I have never liked that tale. It always struck me how heartless the ant was, and also how ungrateful. For who kept the ant entertained while it worked? The grasshopper, with its singing.

    The story would need some tweaking before I shared it with my kids. 🙂

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