Ants in a Circle (Not on a Log)

“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).

6 thoughts on “Ants in a Circle (Not on a Log)”

  1. The analysis of Mala feeling like the ant in the chalk circle is excellent. I think there can be a connection here between Mala’s experiences of being trapped and Geryon’s experiences of at least feeling trapped. Geryon frequently takes action to trap or repress a part of himself by wearing his coat over his wings, or even binding them using a piece of wood. Mala draws a circle around the ant so that another creature can feel like she feels, and Geryon also expresses his captivity. He paints LOVESLAVE designs with Herakles and he even tells Geryon that his art is frequently about captivity (Carson, 55.) While their captivities are somewhat subconsciously self-imposed, they ultimately stem from a socially originated stigma against things that affect both Mala and Geryon, but are ultimately out of their control.

  2. Like Geryon’s brother, I think the people on Lantacamara underestimate the power of isolation and feelings of being caged in. To prove how powerful the invisible cage is the author has Mala kill her father because she sees no way out. Even when he is dead she still feels trapped, doesn’t leave her home. The community kept the Ramchandins isolated from society, parents didn’t want their kids near them, the mailman wouldn’t even cross the boundary to deliver their mail. Like the ants, the encircled ant didn’t see a way out and the other ants continued on.

    It’s interesting to think the cage/barrier is dependent on your point of view. As you pointed out, from above (an outside perspective) it is obvious that you can cross the chalk boundary from a different perspective. I think Geryon was able to change his perspective unlike Mala (no fault of her own).

  3. I love the comparison of Mala to the ant in the chalk circle, I think is very apt. While you mention that Mala is within her own metaphorical chalk circle, the circle of her father’s abuse, I would go further than that. Like Mala drew a chalk circle around the ant, trapping it in, she created a physical embodiment of the chalk circle around herself- the wall around her house. Mala created a patched together circle of furniture to give an embodiment of the circle in her mind that trapped her in her house, where she stood vigil.

  4. This comparison of the chalk circle trap and Mala’s entrapment is a very strong and accurate one. It made me think of Tyler as well, and how he also expresses feeling entrapped. Yet instead of a fence around Tyler’s house with an abusive father, I think his entrapment is the falsified identity that he has been putting on his whole life. Tyler’s outward appearance to the world differs from what he(they?) actually feels. And this feeling only intensifies when the world around Tyler is saying that a male is the correct identity, nothing else. Outside from Tyler and Mala’s expressions of feeling trapped and stuck, I think that almost everyone experiences a moment similar to this, and it would be interesting for everyone to try to come up with their own ants in a circle analogy. I also wonder how one is able to feel free again.

  5. Beyond Mala feeling like a trapped ant, I think there is another connection to the way she experiences and tries to heal from her trauma, which you touched upon briefly in your analysis of why Mala drew the circle in the first place: “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.” This strikes me as an early example of Mala not being able to express herself through words, and instead searching for an alternate means of communication. She is trapped in a metaphorical chalk circle, and just like the ant, she can’t escape. It seems like Mala is trying to illustrate this feeling of helplessness through a small-scale replica of her own situation, at a moment when words and language fail her.

  6. The chalk circle works both ways: the ant inside is estranged from the outside world, while the other ants are forced to cautiously work around it. Trauma is circular, and the cycle of traumatization and traumatization, recovery and relapse traps its victims in a pattern of repetition and no clear directionality to recovery, and this cycle, much like the ant and the circle, manifests itself later as Mala’s house. The other ants never dare to traverse into the circle, nor do the townsfolk, and this is painfully illustrated again to Mala when Ambrose, who’d broken into her circle for a moment, eventually leaves her for good, and with the death of Chandin she closes off the circle forever, submitting to it as something she will never hope to escape. We see it in how her interactions with Tyler amount to internal mumbling, because the circle is not easy to break.

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