Virginia Woolf Questions and Answers

Start Your Free Trial

In "The Death of the Moth", what fresh and vivid imagery does Woolf use to bring life to her abstract ideas, and how does this imagery further the development of ideas? 

Expert Answers info

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write16,848 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Virginia Woolf was primarily concerned with the "shift" that was intrinsic to Modernism.  In describing the Modernist sense of consciousness, Woolf once wrote that "All human relations shifted...and when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics, and literature.” For Woolf, the exploration of this shift and how it impacted all facets of being in the world is not only at the heart of her analysis of Modernism.  It also lies in how she views life and consciousness in the world.  It is very abstract because it seeks to explain the forces that underscore the very essence of life, and Woolf uses a practical example to highlight this abstract shift in "The Death of a Moth" in her employment of vivid imagery.

Woolf displays the shift of energy, the very life force that animates her, the world around her, and the moth, through vivid and fresh imagery.  This cradling spirit of such energy is illuminated with the fresh imagery of the day, itself:

It was a pleasant morning, mid-September, mild, benignant, yet with a keener breath than that of the summer months. The plough was already scoring the field opposite the window, and where the share had been, the earth was pressed flat and gleamed with moisture. Such vigor came rolling in from the fields and the down beyond that it was difficult to keep the eyes strictly turned upon the book.

The imagery of the morning that Woolf employs is fresh with its "keener breath" and the Earth that "gleamed with moisture."  There is "vigor" in this imagery as well as a vitality that makes the introspective Woolf want to step out of this realm and partake in what is there.  This world of teeming energy is also mirrored in the initial imagery of the moth:

The same energy which inspired the rooks, the ploughmen, the horses, and even, it seemed, the lean bare-backed downs, sent the moth fluttering from side to side of his square of the windowpane....He flew vigorously to one corner
of his compartment, and, after waiting there a second, flew across to the other. What remained for him but to fly to a third corner and then to a fourth? 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. What he could do he did.

In illustrating the energy of life that was within the world and appropriated by the moth's actions, Woolf employs fresh and vivid imagery which enables the reader to experience "the moment" of life's essence.  This is confirmed in the spirit of life's energy that Woolf feels the moth embodies, as a "tiny bead of pure life and decking it as lightly as possible with down and feathers, had set it dancing and zigzagging to show us the true nature of life."  This moment of life is evoked through the imagery of life.

In trying to illustrate "the moment," Woolf embraces an abstraction.  This abstraction of what the essence of life is sets the stage for the shift that she sees intrinsic to a Modernist consciousness.  The shift from life to death is a stark one, and the...

(The entire section contains 1,088 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial