Allegory in "The Sword and the Stone"

This Storyboard That activity is part of the lesson plans for The Once and Future King


TOAFK - Allegory in the Lesson of the Ants in "The Sword in the Stone"

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Activity Overview


Allegories rely on extensive symbolic meaning to convey their messages. For students to decipher and understand these extended metaphors, it is helpful to track parallels between the text and the larger issues it is representing.

In “The Sword and the Stone”, the lesson of the ants teaches Arthur the dangers of losing free thought and waging continual war. It is a direct commentary from author T.H. White on the political workings of fascist and communist societies, veiled behind the colony of ants who end up making Arthur miserable.

As a lesson, have your students create a storyboard that shows the parallels between the lesson of the ants and the fascist political system of the Nazis in the 1930s.

Lesson Enhancer: Have students examine the concept of “Newspeak” in George Orwell’s 1984 and compare it to the ants’ language.

Allegory Examples from "The Sword and the Stone"

TOPICTEXT EXAMPLEALLEGORICAL MEANING
Language For Arthur, the ants’ language is one of the most frustrating things he encounters. Their entire vocabulary is reduced to phrases such as “done” and “not done” which apply to all questions of value. There are no words for independent thought, or for emotions, such as “freedom”,“happiness”, or “liking”. If a word does not exist for something, then that something cannot be pondered. In a totalitarian state, free thought is repressed because duty outweighs free will. Just like Hitler demanded full obedience and the repression of differentiated ideas through book burnings and the Hitler youth, the ants demand uniformity, and individuality is not tolerated.
Numbers In Arthur’s experience, he becomes known as “number 42436/WD.” There are no names in the ant colony; every ant is assigned a number. During the time that this portion of the novel was being written, White was watching the basic civil rights of the Jews being stripped away. They were forced to register with the government and were stripped of their freedoms and individual rights. In Nazi Germany, they quickly became numbers, even before they were sent to the concentration camps.
The Leader “In the middle, the Leader sat complacently, laying eggs, attending to the broadcasts, issuing directions or commanding executions, surrounded by a sea of adulation.” This is a comparison to how Hitler was running the Nazi party. While men were being killed in war, Hitler was being exalted as the leader of the Third Reich. He was also in control of everything, much like the Leader of the ants.
Thisnest vs. Othernest Arthur is overwhelmed by the broadcasts about patriotism, war, and the economic situation. Ant the Father has ordained that Othernest ants will be the slaves of Thisnest ants. The Othernest ants are threatening the property, boundaries, and food supplies. “We are a mighty race and have a natural right to subjugate their puny one. They are a mighty race and are unnaturally trying to subjugate our inoffensive ones.” This broadcast highlights the reasoning behind the Nazi’s persecution of the Jews (“they are a threat”), and their justification for waging war and expanding territory in Europe (“we are a mighty race”).
The Religious Ceremony “After the second kind of address, the religious services began. These dated—the Wart discovered later—from a fabulous past so ancient that once could scarcely find a date for it—a past in which the emmets had not yet settled down to communism. They came from a time when ants were still like men, and very impressive some of the services were.” The psalms that the ants sing are filled with war imagery, and have obviously been perverted from their original religious form. Arthur sees that religion has been distorted to highlight warfare and war as something the “King of Glory” has ordained. The ants have turned religious sentiments into a weapon, just as Hitler capitalizes on the patriotic sensibilities of the German people by promising the restoration of glory to the Fatherland. This also relates to the Nazi propaganda machine.


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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows examples of allegory in "The Sword and the Stone".


  1. Identify instances of allegory in the text.
  2. Depict and describe the example of allegory from the text on the left side.
  3. Depict and describe the reference to the larger issue or event on the right side.
Allegorical Reference - Worksheet

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