What would you do if you learned that your home and family were directly in the path of an unstoppable, insatiable insect army made up of 68 billion ants that are devouring every living thing it encounters? This is the question that Carl Stephenson asks in his short story, “Leiningen Versus the Ants,” which was first published in 1938. The protagonist of the story, Leiningen, a fully developed character who possesses both good and bad characteristics finds himself in a situation that requires him to act heroically in an attempt to save himself and his 400 workers from the ant army.
Leiningen possesses many excellent characteristics; chief among these are his intelligence, and resourcefulness. Leiningen’s intelligence is apparent from the very beginning. The reader learns that in only three years Leiningen has managed to build and sustain a thriving plantation where once there was only a Brazilian wilderness when he tells the district commissioner, “I use my intelligence, old man. With me, the brain isn’t a second blindgut; I know what it’s there for.
When I began this model farm and plantation three years ago, I took into account all that could conceivably happen to it. And now I’m ready for anything and everything–including your ants. ” (Stephenson 1) Leiningen’s resourcefulness is apparent from the defenses he has prepared against the ants, as well as his ability to adapt to the changing situations that occur in his battles with the ants. Leiningen’s defenses include a water-filled ditch that surrounds his plantation on three sides and has as its base the river.
Leiningen uses a dam to control the level and flow of the water in this ditch. Should the ants get past the water-filled ditch, Leiningen has constructed a concrete-lined ditch around his house, and outbuildings which can be filled with petrol through pipes connected to three nearby storage tanks. Leiningen feels that together these defenses are “in every way adequate to withstand the approaching peril. ” (Stephenson 2) Throughout the story Leiningen’s resourcefulness and intelligence are tested by the ants who find ways to circumvent the defenses he has in place.
Near the end of the story, Leiningen realizes that “one hope remained, and one alone. It might be possible to dam the great river completely, so that its waters would fill not only the water ditch but overflow into the entire gigantic “saucer” of land in which lay the plantation. ” (Stephenson 15) This plan ultimately saves Leiningen’s remaining workers and himself, while destroying the ant army once and for all. Leiningen is far from perfect; in fact, he has several character flaws: he is both stubborn and overconfident.
Leiningen’s stubbornness is apparent when the District Commissioner warns him about the approaching ant army and he tells Leiningen that he and his workers have no choice but to flee. Leiningen tells the commissioner, “… you’re pulling my leg of course when you say I must do a bunk. Why, even a herd of saurians couldn’t drive me from this plantation of mine. ” (Stephenson 1) Leiningen doesn’t intend to run away, and what’s more a herd of dinosaurs couldn’t make him do so.
The commissioner tells Leiningen he is insane, and that if he doesn’t clear out at once there will be nothing left of him but a skeleton picked as clean as his plantation. Leiningen again refuses to heed the commissioner’s advice, arguing that he is not unprepared for this threat, and the commissioner tells him, “Your obstinacy endangers not only yourself, but the lives of your four hundred workers. You don’t know these ants! ” (Leiningen 1) Leiningen is also overconfident. After the first day of battle with the ants, he has managed to prevent them from crossing the water-filled moat that surrounds his entire plantation.
The following morning Leiningen makes a leisurely ride around the inside perimeter: He studied the wide belt of water between them and the plantation, and for a moment almost regretted that the fight had ended so soon and so simply… it seemed to him now that the ants hadn’t the ghost of a chance to cross the ditch… He had got quite a thrill out of the fight… a pity it was already over. (Leiningen 8) Clearly Leiningen believes he has already won the battle, but he and his men will pay for this overconfidence.