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A Comparison of Life and Death as Seen by Dillard and Woolf

By thelmasyl Sep 17, 2006 752 Words
A comparison of life and death as seen by Dillard and Woolf

Life and death both have different meaning to each person and that meaning can be greatly influenced by their life experiences. The two authors Annie Dillard and Virginia Woolf both expressed their views of life and death using the same symbol, a moth. It is apparent in both essays that the authors hold very different views though, in the end the fate of the moth turns out to be the same – death. This essay goes in detail into the meaning and lessons that each author had to offer, pertaining to life and death.

In Virginia Woolf's short essay The Death of the Moth, Woof placed a lot of significance on life before death. She gave a very detailed description of the life of the moth during the few hours it was alive. Woolf begins by describing the moth as not being as beautiful as a butterfly but yet content with life "They are hybrid creatures, neither gay like butterflies nor somber…". "Nevertheless the present specimen …seemed to be content with life" (Woolf, pg 1348). She compared the moth's energy to that of nature observed outside the window, and pitied him.

It was not till the moth began his struggle to remain alive and keep that energy did Woolf pay close attention once again. Woolf description of the moth fight against the inevitable- death, symbolizes man's desire to live and not die "I looked as if for the enemy against which he struggled" (Woolf, pg 1350). In one aspect, Woolf's perspective of death is viewed as an enemy, something that is not welcomed or embraced easily. On the other hand, Woolf acknowledges that death is inevitable and in the end, the moth showed acceptance towards death "…nothing, I knew had any chance against death. The moth having righted himself now lay most decently and uncomplainingly composed" (Woolf, pg 1350). Woolf believes that one should live their life and enjoy it to the fullest, because death is inevitable and no matter how much energy you have, you will succumb to death. The moth which represents man lived the life that Woolf believes we should live.

Annie Dillard essay on the death of a Moth can be compared to Woolf's essay based on the similar titles and subjects. Dillard also uses a moth to convey a quite different point of view on life and death. She makes no mention in her essay about the life the moth lived before its death. Her emphasis is only on the life of the moth after death hence indicating that unlike Woolf, she is more concerned with the things left behind once one dies as opposed to the things that they accomplish when alive.

In Dillard's essay, she starts by talking about the remains of dead moths that are found in her bathroom, placing emphasis of what was left behind of the moth when it died. Dillard thought it was more important to leave a legacy behind, something that persons can have as a memory of your life. Even when Dillard observed the moth fly and burn in the candlelight, the first thought that crossed her mind was ‘what did that moth leave behind?' "Had she been new or old? Had she mated and laid her eggs, had she done her work?" (Dillard, pg 2324). Unlike the subtle death that the moth in Woolf's essay endured, the moth in Dillard's essay even after death kept on burning like a second wick. It continued to fight death and in its own way, it continues to live on in a different form, this time as a second wick giving light. This also shows that Dillard feels that there is a silver lining to every dark cloud and even in death; one can still serve a purpose. "…this spectacular skeleton began to act as a wick. She kept burning" (Dillard, pg 2324).

Not only did the moth just continue burning, but the second wick it formed was identical in height to the first. This shows that man deserves equality even in death.

The last two paragraphs of Dillard's essay, she talks a little about her present life, and she applies those beliefs. Dillard made mention that she lights candles when visitors come and never blows them out even after the visitors have left. This further supports her belief of having something left behind to remember someone by in their absence.

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