Ladybug, Ladybug, fly away home,
Your house is on fire and your children are gone,
All except one,
And her name is Ann,
And she hid under the baking pan.
This is not about a ladybug.
We find the evidence of this in the fact that our narrator expects her (yes – I did just assume her gender) to possess human verbal capacity. Even assuming this was some special breed of ladybug or some alternate universe where ladybugs can speak – the narrator knows where Ladybug lives, the name of her child, and where to find her when her house is on fire. He must be calling her by name, and not by species: Ladybug is a proper noun.
Further driving home the point, Ladybug lives in a house that is flammable and contains a baking pan. She’s people.
In a narrative where her child is given the common “Ann” by way of handle, it’s fair to assume that the less-orthodox “Ladybug” is a nickname. So it seems as though our narrator has personal history with the subject.
This makes it all the more bizarre when the first thing the poet says to her is a variation of, “Go away.” Yes, it’s followed by an explanation (your house is on fire, etc.) But seriously. The child of someone you know is trapped in a burning house. Isn’t it more typical to scream, “Your house is on fire!” “Call the police!” Or, I don’t know. Grab a hose and try to help?
This guy, by contrast, won’t even go with her. All we hear is, “You, go home because Scary Bad Things.”
It might be that, while Ladybug and narrator have known each other long, their relationship is antagonistic. Especially when we consider that his first line to her is a command, followed by probably the two most terrifying phrases you can hear when you’re away from home: Your house is on fire, and your children are gone. Like, really? You couldn’t think of a less upsetting way to say it?
The tone isn’t consistently blunt, either; after catching Ladybug’s attention, Narrator really drags out delivery of the info pertaining to Ann. It’s practically Schadenfreude.
It might be, too, that the narrator doesn’t offer help, because he can’t help. His words provide evidence that Ladybug is faster, stronger, and more fireproof than your average grieving parent. From the first command, it’s clear the narrator thinks highly of Ladybug’s courage, her physical prowess, and her speed. She is told not to seek shelter or call for help, but to hasten directly toward the source of danger; he sees her as physically and mentally qualified to rescue a child single-handedly from a raging fire.
It’s assumed that she’ll arrive first on scene, before any other qualified helpers – despite the fact that she is far enough away from home that she couldn’t see or hear that her house was burning down. She’s told, in fact, to “fly” home – indicating, either, a known capacity for super-speed, or a literal ability to fly. (Perhaps that’s how she earned her nickname?)
On the other hand, our speaker is also super-fast. He covers the distance from burning house, where Ann was observed, to Ladybug, before it’s too late to help. He is also able to remain calm in an emergency; he offers Ladybug firm directions to fly away home, followed by a description indicating keen observational skills. If the narrator is unable to rescue Ann, it’s not for lack of physical ability.
It’s odd that neither Ladybug nor narrator expect aid to arrive on time (if at all). It’s not that there’s no one around to help; there are explicit references to several people who were on scene when the house caught fire who yet declined to offer physical assistance. The narrator makes one. Excluding Ann, all of the children (not both, or one) make at least three more. You’d think, even if they lacked the courage to try and douse the flames, some of them would at least stick around to see what happened to their sister. Instead, they are gone – they ran so far away, it’s not clear where they are.
Sadistic tone aside, the narrator does make a special trip to find Ladybug and tell her what is going on. He tells her to go and deal with the situation; he wants her to take care of it. Why can’t he do more to help? There seems to be some kind of social/political situation preventing able-bodied persons from intervening on Ladybug’s behalf.
She is a figure of quasi-fame, or infamy. The narrator knows her nickname and where to find her when the fire breaks out, yet he seems to know her most recently only by reputation and report. He speaks of her child, Ann, as though they’ve never been introduced before.
Though she is held ultimately responsible for whatever befalls her children and house, Ladybug had no qualms with leaving them alone while she traveled far enough away to merit a messenger’s dispatch. She gives no damns about convention; a woman’s place is not at home, until she says it is.
As discussed above, it is grammatically evident that Ladybug has at least four children. But there seem to be many more; the poet introduces Ann as though unsure whether Ladybug knows all of her children by name.
The one explanation accommodating all these facts – that Ladybug is both responsible for the children, and not in the habit of supervising them directly; that she’s known to travel far from home; that she’s a figure known to some by reputation; that the children are hers, and yet she doesn’t know all of them – is that she does not have biological offspring.
Her children are her students.
Ladybug is the headmistress of a very special academy. Her children are no ordinary youth; no good Samaritans will lift a finger to rescue them. It appears that they share her super-speed and prowess, as well. By the time the narrator catches up to Ladybug, all of them but Ann are “gone” – they’ve moved very far away in little time. And Ann demonstrates profound flexibility and sneakiness in hiding herself beneath a baking pan. (It’s probably a big pan, considering it’s the only one and it provides for a whole school. Still, it’s a feat).
It is further implied that the children should not be “gone” from the house when it’s burning. If it were a good thing that the children were out of danger, the report would have been: “Your house is on fire, but your children are gone.” The “and” instead presents their absence as an additional cause of alarm.
Just as important to note is the order of knowledge related. The first, the primary piece of information, is that the house is on fire. The children who are gone are of secondary importance. Last of all – almost an afterthought – is little Ann. The one in actual danger.
It seems as though everyone expected the students to take responsibility for putting the fire out. Their lives are less important than the defense of their academy. Considering all the evidence, it is impossible to conclude anything other than that Ladybug runs an ultra-elite assassin-training institution.
This in part explains why no one helps them, and why the tone of the poem is so smug and unworried; no one likes assassins. Now considering a baking pan is like, the worst place ever to hide from heat, it sounds as though Ann’s greatest threat didn’t come from the flames. So I’m going out on a limb and guessing the fire wasn’t an accident.
The academy was attacked, by a rival school. That’s ultimately why no civilians could intercede, even if they were willing to overlook the fact that those kids were killing machines. That’s why Ladybug has to fly home, why most of her children leave, and why the fact that they ran away is so very damning. Ladybug’s house is burning, in more sense than one. Her legacy, her dynasty, her entire empire are going up in flames.
All because sexism.
That patronizing-as-fuck narrator makes a whole big deal out of the fact that the only student who didn’t run is named Ann – which is certainly a girl’s name, but just in case you doubted the fact, female pronouns precede and follow it. This info is tellingly linked to the delivery of terrible news by another little “and,” implying the narrator thinks it’s bad news to have a girl as your last line of defense.
You might think it strange that a lady, having broken through untold barriers to become a world-class assassin, who goes on to run an assassin training school of her own, would still get shit for allowing female enrollment. She’s in charge, right? Sexism over?
Not in her lifetime. Ladybug has managed to prove to the naysayers that there are exceptions to the rule that a lady can’t be an assassin. What she’s done in starting a school that accepts male and female students is to challenge the rule itself. She’s hoping to flip the old narrative by producing a whole generation’s worth of quality female assassins.
Hence, they were attacked.
The narrator knows all about it, of course – he was there. He’s just as fast, and just as formidable as Ladybug. He’s one of the Old Order – a longtime rival. When he repeats her name, he seems rather to be pondering or considering her again. One can read a longstanding disappointment or frustration between the lines, something on the order of, “Ladybug, Ladybug. What are we going to do with you?” It suggests he should have known he’d find her here, in this situation. Her school is burning. Her children lack discipline; most of them fled at the first signs of attack. The one who remained was caught hiding under a baking pan, and they already know her name – sounds like she didn’t put up much of a fight.
In those first two words, there’s an almost ownership, in a relational capacity. The narrator feels Ladybug has greater potential than what she’s demonstrating. He hates what she stands for. He’s not on her side.
But he’s not, not on her side.
They go way back. Likely they’ve sparred together. Maybe they trained together. He has to tell her to fly away, because her instinct is to move toward him. His every word drips sarcasm. But he left the fight, to warn her the house was on fire.
If her legacy ends today, he wants her leaving in a blaze of glory. Defending what is hers.
Case regretfully closed.