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In Virginia Woolf’s The Death of the Moth, she wrote about a pathetic moth’s death process. Although its struggling and fighting against death moved her, the moth died in the end. The Death of the Moth reveals a world filled up with common objects: the moth, downs, sunlight, rooks, men etc. The connection between them, however, is extraordinary. The center of this world is frozen on a moribund moth and everything else is background. They are here to see and to contrast the death of the moth. In this world, life and death changed in a wink and this death process is released in a condensed way, striking us readers’ simple and quiet life. Woolf was a person who suffered mental illness throughout her life. In this essay, she commonly used personification. She considered the moth as herself. By condensing the human lifetime to a day life of a hay-colored moth, she demonstrated that death was inevitable. Even though due to “the true nature of life”, living beings tend to fight against the “oncoming doom” (107), any effort against “the power” will fail eventually.
Surprisingly, Woolf created a window that separated the moth and her from the outside world. At the beginning of this essay, she wrote about the pleasant summer morning. Everything outside was inspired by the vigor. The keener smell of air, the early work in the field, the “utmost clamor and vociferation” of rooks shows us this scene of vitality (106). In addition, she chose to write many big, strong and significant things on purpose, such as the scoring plough, the horses, the ploughmen, the rooks etc. She aimed to foreshadow the contrast between the moth and outside living beings: “That was all he could do, in spite of the size of the downs, the width of the sky, the far-off smoke of houses, and the romantic voice, now and then, of a steamer out at sea” (106, 107). Compared to the world outside the window, the moth was pathetic and “little or nothing but life” (107). The universe was larger than the moth can notice. However, compared to the “oncoming doom”, even the large and strong outside world was fragile and insignificant, let alone the little moth: as long as it chose to, the oncoming doom could “submerge an entire city, not merely a city, but masses of human beings; nothing, I knew, has any chance against death” (108).
The world inside the window was individual and different from the world outside. Woolf wrote about the moth flying around the window, from one corner to another, or across them. Not only the moth was tiny, but also its life, though somehow vigorous at that moment, was actually boring. There was nothing else left for it to do besides flying. Outside world was bright and colorful, but the moth was somewhat lonely, just like Woolf herself. The window was like a barrier, keeping her away from enjoying the optimistic and positive life. She felt pity for the moth, just as if she felt sympathy for herself. Eventually, the moth settled on the windowsill, maybe because it was tired. It wanted to fly again, but failed. It seemed that this little creature was exhausted. Its movement and struggling was awkward. It failed several times and finally fell down and lay on its back. Death crept up on this poor and pathetic moth. Woolf tended to help it, but suddenly realized that this was the token of death. She knew death was inevitable, and she accepted that. In her mind, nothing people can do to stop the power of death. Hence, she chose not to interfere with the natural process. The moth was struggling. She was moved by its extremely strong will to live. Its tiny little legs fluttered repeatedly. The last protest was a success, but this instant victory did not save it from taking away by death. At the last few sentences of the last paragraph, she repeated the word death for six times, trying to emphasize that nothing can win the battle against oncoming doom. Except using repetition here that adds force, the whole passage was trying to avoid this. Synonyms were commonly seen in her words, such as pity, pathetic, sympathies; also useless, helplessness, futile, vainly and failure; death, oncoming doom, the power, fate etc.
From her words “it was superb this last protest”, “one’s sympathies, of cause, were all on the side of life”, “moved one strangely” etc., we can see that Woolf admired, respected and praised the life (108). Thus, she utilized personification throughout her essay. The moth is she, and she is the moth, struggling and fighting all her life. Virginia Woolf suffered mental illness during her lifetime. Actually, the date when she wrote this essay was very close to her suicide. As she said in the end of the essay “death is stronger than I am”, her illness was torturing her and she wanted an end (108). The moth’s life is actually her life. She condensed it to a day. Her life is not colorful and interesting like the world outside the window, but boring, plain and dull. She had a same window deep down in her mind. A barrier, through which she could see the world, but she fail to blend in it.
Maybe for the reason of her mental illness, she can see the world differently than common people and can understand her inner thoughts more thoroughly, thus creating her magnificent achievements in mastering the technique stream of consciousness. She can write complex sentences as her wish, and mix her true feelings into her words: “Yet, because he was so small, and so simple a 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, there was something marvelous as well as pathetic about him” (107).
In this essay, Virginia Woolf seemingly wrote about the moth, while actually she wrote about herself. Pessimistic emotion flooded this essay. No one can stop the natural process. No one can escape from death.
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