(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“The Moths,” the story that would become the title work in Viramontes’s first collection of short fiction, is even more representative of her central concerns and develops more deeply her feminist themes. Again two women play central roles: an older woman and her fourteen-year-old granddaughter. The technique of the story is less complex than “The Cariboo Café,” for the girl is the narrator throughout the short piece, and the structure of her story is fairly straightforward. However, the story is full of rich sensory detail (of sight, sound, smell, and touch), as well as the magic realism that infuses so much of Latin American fiction and that influences so many Latino and other writers.

Essentially this is a coming-of-age story, of a young girl who, in rebellion against her own patriarchal family, seeks comfort in the company of her grandmother and, in easing the grandmother through death, finds her own spiritual core. It is clear from the opening of the story that the girl is different, not “pretty or nice,” she admits, nor even “respectful.” She clashes with her family often, especially with the older sisters who try to bully her, and with a father who tries to make her fit a conventional mold, as by attending church. Her grandmother has requested her help, however, as the girl says in the story’s first sentence, for Abuelita is dying. Traditional religion is no solace here: The girl goes into a local chapel but only feels...

(The entire section is 593 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

When the narrator was fourteen years old, her elderly grandmother Abuelita (Mama Luna), who was dying of cancer, asked her to help take care of her. The girl felt this was a reasonable request, because Abuelita had taken care of her through illnesses, whippings, a broken arm incurred in the process of following a dare, her first lie, and puberty. Though she denies a special connection with her grandmother, it is clear that one has developed and that her grandmother has offered her a level of understanding that she never received at home.

Within her own nuclear family the girl was the odd member. She was too tomboyish for the girls, too rebellious for her father, and a trial for her mother. Although her sisters were ultra-feminine, with delicate hands and manners and fine embroidery skills, the narrator was awkward and large. She was violently defensive and boyish in her ways (she once struck a sister with a brick hidden in a sock when the sister teased her about her big hands). Throughout her childhood, her father, Apá, criticized her and beat her for not conforming to his notions of what a docile girl should be and for not attending church regularly.

The narrator’s father directed some of this anger over his daughter’s behavior at her mother, whom he blamed for poor parenting. To protect her mother from his wrath, the narrator sometimes dressed as if she were going to church, when she was actually going to Mama Luna’s house, where she helped the older woman prepare food. As they worked together in the kitchen, tears streamed down her cheeks as she peeled and crushed chili peppers. On some days, the narrator’s mother sent her out of the house to save her from a whipping by her father, and she went to Abuelita’s to help her plant seedlings in coffee cans that were later transplanted to the grandmother’s beautiful garden.

Now Abuelita, whose own hands have rubbed and...

(The entire section is 784 words.)