When Toni Morrison and her son Slade set out to interpret “The Grasshopper and the Ants,” they were interested in the artist’s labor. Mother and son were interested in the fact that the grasshopper labors through his musicianship. His labor does not lead to him storing up provisions but it benefits the community who listens and dances to it. When winter comes and grasshopper lacks provisions, ant refuses him given the pressing needs of his own growing family. Their interpretation centers on our obligations to one another; what we owe to our friends and our community. Pinkney’s rendering holds the grasshopper accountable for putting off until tomorrow what he should have done today.
Now seems the perfect time to consider this story as we approach the start of the Summer season. “The Grasshopper and the Ants” suggests that the Summer must keep the Winter in mind. The seduction of slipping fully into the indulgences of summertime is no better represented than through Al Green’s interpretation of the George Gershwin composed tune for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess.
The earth yields abundantly during summer. Green’s bluesy interpretation makes Aesop’s grasshopper appear less foolish to me and more convincing for his belief that the ants’s work was out of proportion to the season. This sentiment gets conveyed through D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s classic joint “Summertime.”
“Summertime,” here again, is not at all about work but about romance between boys and girls; young men and young women; old folk play and young folk play; food and celebrations. Summertime appears to erase any hint of conflict as all know the role they are to perform. Maybe this is why in Aesop’s tale, grasshopper seems so put off by the ants; they won’t act out leisure like everyone else. The ants insist on seeing tomorrow coming and refuse to be seduced by a moment of seeming abundance.
Cautious indulgence is the moral that I’m taking from this story–at least this time around. Now that school is out and vacation season has started, this story reminds us that all play and no work will make Winter a hungry time.