ooking at a Moth’s Death
In her short essay “The Death of the Moth,” English novelist and essaying Virginia Woolf transforms a prosaic experience into a deep philosophical meditation. Looking out the window of her rural home one day while reading, Woolf notices the exertions of a moth flitting inside the window. As she watches, the moth seems to lose its vital motivation, and eventually dies as the author watches. The sight motivated Woolf to write about how the moth’s struggle against death affected her and led her to a deeper consideration of the nature of life and death (Woolf). In doing so, Woolf purposefully leads the reader into his or her own consideration of existence, using strong emotional appeals communicated through her language to create a sense of sympathy and identification for her reader. Woolf assumes her audience is probably, like herself, thoughtful, philosophical, and sensitive, therefore able to be moved by the description of the moth’s struggle against death. Woolf embodied these traits – perhaps too much, as these factors perhaps contributed to the depression that resulted in her eventual suicide. She sees the moth, again perhaps like herself and many of her readers, as something of an oddball: “Moths that fly by day are not properly to be called moths...They are hybrid creatures, neither gay like butterflies nor somber like their own species” (Woolf 1107). Woolf’s initial assertion that the moths are “not proper,” and “hybrid creatures” implies that they fit in nowhere, already establishing a sense of sympathy in the sensitive reader, who, like the author, may feel out of place in the world. The author’s appeals to emotion intensify from there; as the moth begins its final moments, she personifies its actions: “He was trying to resume his dancing, but seemed either so stiff or so awkward that he could only flutter to the bottom of the windowpane; and when he tried to fly across it he failed” (Woolf 1108). This personification of the moth...
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