Virginia Woolf’s essay “Death of the Moth” describes her encounter with a moth as it fights furiously to escape her windowpane before it is claimed by death. The speaker’s first instinct as they intently watch the moth’s struggle is to help it, but as she goes to do so, they realize that the moth is engaged in the same inescapable struggle faced by all living creatures as they try to prevent death from robbing them of life. By witnessing the moth’s death, the speaker is compelled to ponder the philosophical implications that incur within the circular pattern of life and death. She is conscious of death’s omnipotent inevitability, but concludes that the ever-present possibility of death serves as a primary motivational force necessary for life to have value and meaning. Since death cannot be overpowered, the way an individual struggles to survive and preserve life even in its final moments is more valuable than the mundane, meaningless activities pursued with apathy.
As she continues to observe the moth, she begins to see the creature as a metaphor for life itself. The speaker describes him as he flies from one corner of the room to another as if “a fiber, very thing but pure, of the enormous energy of the world had been thrust into his frail and diminutive body” (1-2). From the speaker’s perspective, he was “nothing but life” (2). Yet, his existence is composed of simple activities, which means that he represents life in its most primal form to the speaker. Yet even in this primal form, she still perceives him as “form of the energy that was rolling in at the open window and driving its way through so many narrow and intricate
corridors in my own brain and in those of other human beings” (2). The mention of energy serves to connect the moth to the speaker by acknowledging that they are composed of the same vibrant energies that give them both life.
Additionally, the speaker also shows great appreciation for life itself by the way they describe the beauty and energy surrounding them as well as “the possibilities of pleasure seemed that morning so enormous and so various” (1). This appreciation causes the speaker to pity the moth, which embodies life, but is too small and insignificant in the world to truly make a difference or matter to others. The moth’s simple existence has left it unprepared for its’ battle with death. While humans are aware of deaths existence and inevitability, the moth believes that it struggles against a force it can overcome. The frantic nature of its “superb last protest” and the speakers unwillingness to help the moth in its fight display the vast difference in complexity between the lives of the two creatures.
Despite the moth’s perceived insignificance, the speaker describes his energetic zeal as he zips around the room with fascination “one could not help watching him” (1). However, the speaker also views his energy in his persistent flights from one location to another as pathetic, but revealing of “the...