Mrs. Cooper’s challenge was to write an essay on Holy The Firm by Annie Dillard. The challenge comes not from being able to sum up enough words in enough time to meet the requirements of this assignment, but from being able to contain such vast information, learned and decoded out of the book, into an essay format, a container so small and structural that, like Annie Dillard did in her own writing, one must carefully decide which thoughts, quotes and ideas are most important, based on your essay topic, and squeeze them into a vessel for a reader, or listener, to understand and grasp your vast message. Annie Dillard did the same thing while writing Holy The Firm, she took her contained ideas on subjects including; Time, Reality, The Will of God, Death, Nature, and the theme I will be focusing on, Sacrifice. Holy The Firm, though full of questions, is just as much full of answers, that Annie Dillard came up with while secluding herself, aside from her cat, spider and community of neighbors, on an island in Puget Sound, for two years. While all of the previously listed themes are completely intertwined and overlap everywhere, I will use the best of my abilities to discuss mainly Annie Dillard’s views on Sacrifice, her questions and answers regarding what it is and the reasons for it. While Annie Dillard gives a complex, and hazy answer for the question of sacrifice, I will share my interpretation of that answer which Annie Dillard has shared with me. The reason for sacrifice is to bring us enlightenment of God’s power and the reality of His world.
Throughout the book, one of the most commonly used motifs is a moth, whether it is being eaten by a spider, or burned on a candle, the moth’s death is a commonly used symbol for sacrifice. The moth is first brought up where it is being eaten by a spider, but the best imagery of the dying moth first appears on pages sixteen and seventeen, where a moth flies onto the candle and is burned to death. And I paraphrase this action, where a large female moth with a two inch wingspan flies right into the wick and is burned to its structural like skeleton and is filled with wax, and acts as a second wick, and a flame embodied this moth, “a saffron yellow flame that robed her to the ground like any immolating monk”. Right away Annie Dillard is screaming sacrifice by comparing a moth being burned to a monk sacrificing himself in protest. But what is the moth’s sacrifice for? If you look back a few paragraphs you will notice Annie states, “One night a moth flew into the candle, was caught, burnt dry and held. I must have been staring at the candle, or maybe I looked up when a shadow crossed my page; at any rate, I saw it all.”. Annie states that she, “saw it all”. She is not referring to seeing all of the moth being burned, but she is referring to “all”, and all is enlightenment, all is wisdom, and while the moth was literally being burned like a wick, it is symbolically creating a light, a light that allows Annie to see and be shown. “She burned for two hours without changing, without bending or leaning---only glowing within, like a building fire glimpsed through silhouetted walls, like a hollow saint, like a flame faced virgin gone to God, while I read by her light…”(17). The imagery is unmistakably obvious at this point, the moth has become another source of light, a light house, a symbol of light that will show you the world outside of the darkness. At the cost of sacrificing itself, the death of this moth has shown Annie “all“, and its light has shown her the true nature of God’s reality.
On the next, possibly deeper, level of symbolism, Annie introduces a second motif, a plane, a girl and her face being burned off. Before I analyze the symbol, something must be known to truly understand Annie Dillard’s symbolism, almost a mathematical equation of understanding it. All symbols. motifs, words, characters, imagery and events in this book are the same based on a transitive property. If...
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