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This essay provides an insight into the writer's understanding of life and death. The Death of the Moth, written in 1942, provides a distinction between the life of the Moth and the human life. Woolf starts her essay by identifying the bee, the kind that grows during the day. They typically fly at night and have a distinctive bland tint. However, this specimen was a day-flyer. From the outset, it is clear that she is pitiful for the moth, whose zeal to indulge the rewards of his sadly pitiful prospects (Woolf 400). This pity is derived from the fact that it is fluttering across a window, from one point to the next, unaware that there is much more space to be explored beyond the window. The insect is obviously in a transparent box which limits its ability to move more than it would be preferred.
Woolf’s claim is that matters on life and passing are about as comprehensible as the lifespan of this day-soaring insect. The moth spends so much time winging about in its small body as though it were trying to compensate for its short existence. This is how human life is like, according to Woolf. To live out our lives, we do so much even though we are likely to die from doing it. Woolf is amazed at how pathetic and fascinating the moth is in how he tries to maintain its dignity in spite of his confined space. When it is let out, it soars and settles on a window ledge where the sun’s rays hit his body. He apparently attempts to resume his fluttering and dancing but its minute limbs are naturally stiff. Several attempts, and failures, later, he is exhausted and helpless. He cannot get across the windowsill. This is more of the human existence; trying to make something of our pitiful lives, only meeting failure while nature looks at us without offering help. Irrespective of the many times that the moth falls, the writer looks at him with fascination, half-expecting him to get up and resume his movements and when she tries to help, she realizes that it is in the throes of demise.
While the writer has expressed what the life of a moth is all about, it is possible to make a conclusion that human existence is the same, in her perception. Considering her background and the ability to create a consciousness stream in her works, life is short and an unnecessary struggle. However, this essay only highlights the sad parts of the moth’s life. It is true that for the better part of its life, it flutters around bright light until the light kills it. Its death results from flying too close to the light or from added heat. There is a side to this life that is never explored, especially the struggle towards becoming a moth. It has to feed itself enough to last it the entire Chrysalis duration. Unlike the butterfly, the moth is not attractive, meaning that it is more likely to be treated worse than its dainty and colorful counterpart.
Passing away itself is a mystery, which makes the moth’s demise a mystery. It is interesting to note the description given to the lifeless body of the insect. In death, it seems at peace and its limbs are still for the first time. This shows that the very essence of life is energy, which is manifested in various ways. He flutters about across the window ledge, much more like the other creatures go about in their endeavors to sustain themselves. The elements of life involve a struggle that is unavoidable and a demise which is inevitable (Woolf 427).
The tone used by the writer goes from disdain to pity in a few moments. Initially, her mind is on other things other than the moth. She is describing the outside environment, clearly sitting by a window. It is summer, and the planting season has begun. She describes the birds singing and flying outside while the moth is engaged in its activities. There is an energy outside that is characteristic of greater animals with a greater purpose. She states that, ‘while watching him, it seemed as if a fiber, very thin and pure, of the enormous energy of the world, had been thrust into his frail and diminutive body (p. 427). The outside energy is present in the tiny insect, which now has the author’s attention. He moves across the windowsill as though attempting to prove the writer wrong in her opinion of him. As the moth approaches its final moments, the writer ventures into lengthy explanations of what the moth is going through. It is seen as an attempt to reconnect with the moth. The message here is somewhat lost in the sentence, which can be viewed as an endless description of an insect’s death. However, it is apparent that her reference is not only to the moth when she says that one is apt to forget all about life, seeing it humped and bossed and garnished and cumbered so that it has to move with the greatest circumspection and dignity. All living things attempt to maintain a semblance of dignity when they are dying, often with little success (p. 429).
As the essay progresses, the reader can decipher that the writer’s description comes from a personal problem. It is a realization that the only way out of a life of misery is to take her life. The moth has had a short life which ends on a windowsill one afternoon. It tried severally to fly out of the window but was held in by the glass; it could see outside but exhausted itself trying to be free. The glass window symbolizes individual space in which all are trapped by different things. Our attempts to escape this glass are only satisfied when we are helped. Although she tries to help the moth get up on its feet, in the end, it is clear that it is late as the insect’s body stiffens in a final act of rebellion. What makes this essay resonate even after all this while is its ability to draw the reader into it. Life is misunderstood, and the end of it is death. It is inevitable, but all have to go through it. Further, it shows the effects of closing oneself in and trying to control our circumstances. It is possible to live and enjoy life, even in its brevity. It will not always be summer, but every moment is worth living. As she looked at the moth, she realizes just how minute it was against the force that just claimed its life. Somehow, she pondered, he probably knew that death is stronger than himself.
Sánchez Cuervo, Margarita Esther. "Book Review: Virginia Woolf: Essays on the Self." Journal of International Women's Studies 18.2 (2017): 280-283.
Woolf, Virginia. The Death of the Moth and other essays. Virginia Woolf, 2015.
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