Why does Woolf both pity and admire the moth in “The Death of the Moth”?

Woolf both pities and admires the moth for the simplicity and purity of its existence. On the one hand, amid all the vastness of existence, the world of the moth might as well be limited to a window pane, as it flies from corner to corner. Nevertheless, she finds a purity in this existence. Additionally, she cannot help but be struck by the moth's last struggle for survival as it clings desperately to life while facing death.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "The Death of the Moth," Virginia Woolf ruminates on the existence of a moth as she observes its final moments before dying. Her viewpoint is one that combines both pity and admiration, but what it is interesting is that, in both cases, much of her sentiments concerning the moth comes from the same underlying source.

As she notes in her train of thought, there is an existential meagerness to the moth's life as it flies pointlessly from corner to corner along the window pane. As Woolf notes, for all the vastness of the world, as far as the moth is concerned, this window might as well be the totality of its existence. This is the reason she pities the moth. And yet, at the same time, she notes the moth's existence has a sense of purity about it she cannot help but be struck by. Thus, she writes, "He was little or nothing but life."

When speaking about her admiration for the moth, it is worth remembering that Virginia Woolf herself suffered from depression and mental illness, a condition that was so severe as to eventually cause her to commit suicide. With this in mind, it is worth wondering if, even beyond admiration, in some small sense she might even, in her own way, envy the moth for its simplicity, free of the ambiguities and complexities of civilization or the traumas of her own existence.

And yet, the moth faces death just like all living things, and Woolf observes the moth's last desperate struggles to cling to life. Woolf discusses the near omnipotent power of death as a force that cannot be overcome, and yet she is struck by the moth's desperate struggle to stay alive, even in the face inevitability. It is this desperate struggle to cling to life, to oppose the overwhelming power of death in its own small and miniscule way, that strikes Woolf as particularly admirable where the moth is concerned.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial