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Comparison between “The Death of the Moth” by Virginia Woolf and “The Death of a Moth” by Annie Dillard

by Alvin


Posted on Sept. 18, 2021, 8:03 p.m.



The two short stories by the two authors were decades apart from one another. As the stories possess obvious similarities from their titles, so they are similar in their subject matter

The two short stories by the two authors were decades apart from one another. As the stories possess obvious similarities from their titles, so they are similar in their subject matter. The central theme in both of the literary works appears to be the inevitability of death. However, the reader is presented with different tones and imagery by the authors (Latham, 21). Generally, Virginia Woolf’s story is a pessimistic one that removes meaning from life and acknowledges it only at the moment of death. Annie Dillard’s story is characterized by some optimism to life.

            After reading both of the stories, the reader finds that death is inevitable from both of them. Dillard commences his observation early. This author wonders that a spider has found plenty of supply of food in her bathroom. She observes that her floor is spotlessly clean, then she marvels, “On what fool’s errand an earwig, a moth, or a sow bug, would visit that clean corner of the house behind the toilet.” (Dillard) She continues to wonder that the insects have the entire house that they can meander through, yet they neglect all of the options they have and walk straight to their death traps. Dillard concludes that the creatures had no choice but to face their deaths (Latham, 22). It was almost to conclude that their lives had been predetermined to follow that path, and they could not deviate.

            Woolf reinforces the idea of the inevitability of death. The moth is flying around the room, and Woolf wonders if what it was left of the fly is “to fly to a third corner and then to a fourth?” (Woolf) The sentiments imply that life is organized in paths and steps that are predetermined and impossible to alter. Both of the stories hold that when the time to die comes, the individual is helpless about it.

            From both of the pieces of work, the reader is presented with the reality of death. Death presents itself in one way in Woolf’s story, and in another in Dillard’s story. Woolf’s moth struggles to stay alive until it is exhausted and dies with dignity. “The moth having righted himself now lay most decently and uncomplainingly composed.” (Woolf) This battle of life and death of Woolf’s moth is pathetic and also noble. The fact that death finally wins makes the struggle pathetic, but noble in how it faces death, on its feet with dignity. On the other hand, the death of Dillard’s moth is dramatic. The moth meets its death by fire from a candle’s flame. “Her wings ignited like tissue paper, like angle’s wings … At the same time, her six legs clawed, curled, blackened, and ceased, disappearing utterly. And her head jerked in spasms, making a spattering noise; her antennae crisped and burnt away, and her heaving mouthparts cracked like pistol fire.” (Dillard) The two moths experience death differently, yet the result is the same – death. The reader of these stories gets the idea that death meets its victims in different ways and forms.

            Both of the authors use imagery to describe their victim, the moth. Through this literary style, the reader can deduce the same message, although the imagery paints different pictures in the mind of the reader. Dillard presents the reader with an image that can only be a fantasy or a dream. Dillard’s moth is “golden” and her wings are “like angle’s wings.” (Dillard) This description is of things that are not common, and the reader can only imagine them. Unlike Dillard, Woolf uses concrete imagery by using examples of pictures that are familiar with the reader. Woolf says that her moth is “straw-colored,” and also compares the struggle that people face daily with that of the moss (Latham, 22). The fantasy created by Dillard tells the reader that the moth is used to represent something else. Woolf also vividly tells the reader that the struggle of the moth is the life struggle that people witness in their daily life.

            The two stories depict how people handle death. Dillard describes the way she “blew her out” after the moth had “burned for two hours.” (Dillard) The death of this moth is sudden. Blowing out and the suddenness of death means that people can never be prepared and that when the death finally comes, we should “blow it out” in the shortest time possible and move on. However, Woolf refutes the idea that death is sudden. According to her, “he seemed to say, death is stronger than I am,” (Woolf) means that anything knows that it is dying when it finds out that it does not have strength against death. On the other hand, she acknowledges that death is unpredictable and impossible to be prepared for it.

            In conclusion, both stories are articulate and meaningful. Both authors connect emotionally with the reader by the way they depict death and struggle. Reading these stories, one gets the idea it is possible to use different ways to describe the same thing or pass the same message.