Leiningen Versus the Ants is one of my favorite short stories of all time.
There seems to be some debate as to whether or not this story is in the public domain with at least one site claiming that it is, but after modest research I have concluded that it is not. It was originally published in Esquire Magazine in December of 1938, and they definitely renewed their copyright: "Esquire: issues renewed from autumn 1933 (v. 1 no. 1); see 1961 Jul-Dec." So the story cannot be presented here but I can provide a summary and simplified critical analysis. You may also enjoy reading our collection of Dystopian Stories.
Summary of Leiningen Versus the Ants
Leiningen is an industrious coffee plantation owner in Brazil. He has built his farm up through hard work and ingenuity. When warned of an approaching cataclysm -- a large swarm of ants eating their way through the jungle as an unstoppable force consuming everything in their path -- Leiningen refuses to yield like his neighbors:
The plantation workers are frightened, Leiningen offers them full pay and allows them to leave. But the boss is such a force of nature himself that some workers stay behind to implement Leiningen's formidable battle plans to defeat the ants.
Using a series of canals, ruses to draw the ants off course, and petroleum fires, the people and the ants engage in a days-long battle. The canals prove effective at first, but soon, the ants learn to cross the canals. Some ants willfully jump into the canals and drown, but their floating bodies are pulled into rafted bridges and that the other ants use to cross. The battle rages on over days and the humans are trapped in a concrete ditch ringed with fire.
All seems lost, then Leiningen realizes that he could breach a dam, two miles away. While that will flood his plantation and destroy the crops, the people will live. Despite the ferocity of the ants, Leiningen determines to wrap himself in petroleum rags and run two miles through the ants to get to the dam and breach it. On his way back he stumbles. He recalls witnessing the ants once pick a downed stag clean to the "white bones" and he resolves not to die that way. Leiningen struggles to his feet and returns to safety. He is badly hurt but alive. At the end of the story he is recovering and states, "I told you I would come back, even if I am a bit streamlined."
Brief Critical Analysis
I find Leiningen Versus the Ants to be an absolutely brilliant and entertaining story, especially when its political commentary is read with the benefit of history and the horrors that began to unfold soon after its publication.
If you like this story summary, you may enjoy reading a similar story, The Empire of the Ants by H.G. Wells and Henry David Thoreau essay, The Battle of the Ants. For a different type of survival jungle story, you may enjoy The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell.
Return to the Carl Stephenson library