“She cut across their path and encircled one of the ants in a line drawn thickly, chalk powder flying. The ants outside the circle marched up to the chalk line and one after the other backed off, refusing to cross. The ant trapped in the circle ran around the inside of the chalk edge, frantically changing course, standing on its hind legs and then crouching on the ground in its panic. Outside the circle several ants dropped their leaves and scurried back in the direction they came. Within seconds a new path bypassing the circle had been created, and the ants outside it hesitantly resumed their trek, more cautiously than before. The ant in the circle stood completely still” (Mootoo 89).
The ant trapped in the circle acts like Mala trapped in her house with the fence around it, stuck at the top of the hill in the middle of Paradise with a visible and seemingly uncrossable barrier around her. The circle of chalk is just a line on the ground—to anyone looking from above (a human), it’s just a line of chalk, perfectly harmless and able to be both stepped on and over—but to the ant, the circle is a solid wall, marking a barrier that the ant perceives that it cannot go across. Just like the ant, Mala perceives that the fence around her house is keeping her inside, preventing her access to the outside world and forming an inescapable prison within its low walls. Like the ants on the ground carrying their leaves, the people of Lantanacamara learned how to make their way cautiously around Mala’s house (whispering and occasionally throwing rocks or other debris, including various rotten fruit, at her and her home). The ant represents how trapped Mala feels in Paradise, even though she put herself there, and how stuck she feels with nowhere to go but her own backyard.
When Asha asks why she drew the circle around the ant, Mala has no answer for her. I think Mala drew the circle because she wanted someone else to understand how she was feeling at that moment, even though she didn’t have the words to describe the feeling. She didn’t know how to express her loneliness, isolation, and frustration other than to show it to Asha with the chalk circle, and she became even more frustrated when Asha didn’t immediately understand why she drew it and questioned her (“‘Why did you do that?’”) (Mootoo 89). Eventually, when Asha leaves, Mala comes to the point where she completely loses herself to the insanity that is life within the chalk circle: she is trapped in this repetitive life with her father, who rapes and abuses her daily, and she can find no way out, so she frantically (metaphorically) runs around her property searching for a crack in the chalk circle surrounding her. When she finds no way out, she snaps and kills Chandin Ramchandin, sealing her fate and trapping herself in the chalk circle forever (or, I guess, until Otoh came along).