O' Henric Turn in Maugham: A paradox or a fable

full name / name of organization: 
Muhammad Reazul Islam, Faculty, Department of English, King Khalid University, KSA
contact email: 

O' Henric Turn in Maugham: A paradox or a fable

"The Ant and the Grasshopper" is a fabulous short story written by William Somerset Maugham. The story starts with a popular fable relating the conversation between an industrious ant and its reluctant counterpart, a grasshopper. Though the story of the fable is embodied with a moral where industry is rewarded and giddiness punished, we see a completely different scenario in the end of the story. Maugham provides an O' Henric turn in the catharsis of the story and makes a sense of paradox and ambiguity. Consequently, it becomes an irony of the moral conflict between a man of ethics and that of a fantasy world.

As the story begins we find the two brothers, namely, George Ramsay and Tom Ramsay who are representing the lives of the ant and the grasshopper respectively. George, the elder, lived an honest and disciplined life while Tom, the younger, had an idle, reckless and care free life. Being a man of industry and thrift George is always pleased with what he has got by the providence, but Tom is a black sheep, a prodigal and unscrupulous rogue.

We find a series of notable differences between the natures of two Ramsay brothers. George is a man of letter with a perfect responsibility towards his family and surroundings. Even as an advisor he likes to be honest to his clients and colleagues. But on the other hand, Tom is a man of extreme lethargy. He is a man deviated from family and office. And therefore exploitation and blackmailing have become the means of his source of income to maintain a luxurious life. He is a man completely surrounded with the fantasy of modern dreams and for this he can do whatever worse he likes. He even never hesitates to exploit his own brother for money. He always believes and says that the money one spends on necessities is boring and the money one spends on luxuries is definitely amusing.

So, it can be a real justice if Tom is placed in a workhouse at the end of his career. But to the utter resentment and dissatisfaction of George, fortune smiles on Tom. He suddenly becomes rich by marrying an old woman who dies soon after their marriage, leaving for him half a million pounds, a yacht, a house in London and a house in the country. And this certain metamorphosis in the catharsis depicts the irony of human fate and their eventual misconceptions of their own understanding.

Critically and analytically it is an acknowledged fact that everybody is for him to survive in a modern world. But unlike other typical modern characters, George is free from such showy activities. Therefore he earns our sympathy. But it is the realistic approach displayed by Maugham where a crafty man like Tom becomes victorious. The sudden rise of Tom's fortune is nothing but a misconception and mockery of Maugham toward the lesson of La Fontaine's fable "The Ant and the Grasshopper". So it is a paradox that a crafty man who is not at all ideal is the most beneficial to survive in a modern world of today.


1. Maugham, Somerset: Collected Short Stories Vol 1, story 5
2. Fable LXXXIII, available online. Books.google.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-04-04
3. La Fourmi et la Cigale, Paris 2010. The text is on the Académie D'Aix Marseille site
4. "Fable XVI". Mythfolklore.net. Retrieved 2012-04-04
5. "The Grasshopper and the Ants", 15th-20th century book and manuscript illustrations
6. "The Ant and the Grasshopper". Prints & Books. Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 2011-04-03