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Insects in literature

Insects have appeared in literature from classical times to the present day, an aspect of the role played by insects in culture. Among the insects treated are the ant, bee, butterfly, dragonfly, fly, grasshopper and locust, horsefly and wasp.

Insects play important roles in around one hundred novels and a hundred short stories in English literature. They are used to portray both positive and negative qualities, more usually negative, including entrapment, stinging, being rapacious, and swarming. They are common in fantasy and especially in science fiction, often as the earthly or alien villains. Detective novels sometimes use insects as unexpected murder weapons. A fly on the wall is used as a voyeur to tell erotic stories in R. Chopping's The Fly, and the anonymous Autobiography of a Flea. Franz Kafka made use of the strangeness of insect metamorphosis in his story called "The Metamorphosis", as have several authors since.

Anthropomorphised ants have often been used in fables, children's stories, and religious texts to represent industriousness and cooperative effort. In the Book of Proverbs, ants are held up as a good example for humans for their hard work and cooperation. Aesop did the same in his fable "The Ant and the Grasshopper". In the Quran, Sulayman is said to have heard and understood an ant warning other ants to return home to avoid being accidentally crushed by Sulayman and his marching army.Mark Twain wrote about ants in his 1880 book A Tramp Abroad. Some modern authors have used ants to comment on the relationship between society and the individual, as with Robert Frost in his poem "Departmental" and T. H. White in his fantasy novel The Once and Future King. The plot in the French entomologist and writer Bernard Werber's Les Fourmis science-fiction trilogy is divided between the worlds of ants and humans; ants and their behaviour are described using contemporary scientific knowledge. H.G. Wells wrote about intelligent ants destroying human settlements in Brazil and threatening human civilization in his 1905 science-fiction short story, The Empire of the Ants. The myrmecologist E. O. Wilson wrote a short story, "Trailhead" in 2010 for The New Yorker magazine, describing the life and death of an ant-queen and the rise and fall of her colony, from an ants' point of view.

  • Hearn, Lafcadio (2015). Insect Literature (Limited (300 copies) ed.). Dublin: Swan River Press. ISBN . 
  • Morris, Brian (2006) [2004]. Cultural Entomology. Insects and Human Life. Berg. pp. 181–216. ISBN . 


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