The Death Of The Moth

I need a summary/response essay for "Death of A Moth" by Virginia Woolf.

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Death of a Moth" by Virginia Woolf, Woolf compares the wonder of life and death by using a moth as an example of the simplicity of life and death and the need to accept the inevitable, although putting up a fight is an essential part of the process.  

Woolf describes a mostly overlooked creature, the moth, as it exists in nature, particularly on this September day. The writer is unable to concentrate, captivated by the moth, but also distracted by the work in the fields and the movements of the birds. The life of the moth she considers "pathetic," especially as this is not even a real moth because it flies during the day. It is insignificant in the scheme of things.  This, Woolf reveals however, is exactly the point. It becomes apparent that the moth is dying and, the writer, at first intending to help the creature, decides that she should not. On further reflection, Woolf points out that the moth's struggles are indicative of life in general as nothing "had any chance against death." The moth's last efforts are dignified and admirable and his appearance in death is significant. Death is all consuming and somehow conflicting as the moth lies there "uncomplainingly composed." 

Virginia Woolf is herself a conflicted person, adding poignancy to her description. She is perhaps, like the moth, making her last attempt at survival; Woolf committed suicide before this essay went to print. Woolf tried during her lifetime to expose the restrictions imposed on women and their attempts to free themselves, sometimes from an authoritarian home and other times from a discriminatory society. Her battles with mental illness after the loss of each of her parents also adds a pragmatism to her description of the moth. Suffering is part of the process of life - or , in fact, the process of death, as she is suggesting that the two overlap and it is not necessarily clear where living ceases and dying begins, only that "it came over me that the failure and awkwardness were the approach of death." 

Such is man's own experience of life and death. For some it is barely noticeable and a person can die before having a chance to have, "this tremendously exciting experience," such as Woolf's interpretation of the "rooks" or birds. However, she suggests that, just because the moth's life is seemingly insignificant, it is good to have "the same energy." The reader feels the same pity for this creature at his "hard fate," maybe viewing his or her own life in the same terms. Everything in life is relative and, what is meaningless to some, is "little or nothing but life." 

One of the problems with Woolf's essay is its fatalistic approach. Her own life is one of challenges and she overcame great odds but in the end, she gave up the fight and became just like the moth - quiet, unassuming and even trapped. In the end, it would be almost disrespectful to continue on as "It was useless to try to do anything." Even a cry for help would not be heeded. She chooses not to help the moth just as she perhaps considers that there is no-one who can help her although it is noted that she is in awe of his "gigantic effort." It seems that her own struggles represented her own effort and soon her own "struggle" would be over. She is as much in awe of death as she is of life. 

Reiterating the simplicity of the process of life and death, it can never be overlooked or avoided and it is man himself who complicates it. The reader would be wise to recognize the value of Woolf's observations.

Wiggin42 | Student

In Death of a Moth by Virginia Woolf, the narrator observes a moth trying desperately to fly out of the room through a closed window. Woolf describes the moth's struggles. The narrator is moved to go and help the moth but decides it against assuming that the reason for the moth's struggle is its imminent death.