The Moths

by Helena María Viramontes

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The narrator of "The Moths" opens the story with a list of all the ways her Abuelita has helped her through tough times over the years and then explains that it has become her turn to care for her grandmother at the point when the plot opens. She explains that she is not chosen as her caretaker because she is a favorite grandchild or because she is especially good at anything; in fact, she lacks the skills and personality of her sisters and finds herself in trouble more often than not. However, her Abuelita has been a steady presence through all of these troubles, bringing the narrator comfort and peace through difficulties.

One such time occurs when Abuelita creates a balm made of moth wings and rubs it on the narrator's hands after she has insulted her Abuelita's remedies for fever. Through this massage, the narrator is brought a sense of peace, and this changes her relationship with Abuelita, as she never minds helping her when needed after this.

The narrator becomes accustomed to helping her Abuelita with her gardening, giving new life to seedlings and watching them "burst out of the rusted coffee cans and search for a place to connect," symbolizing the efforts and struggles of her own life. One day her mother tells her that she will need to provide a different kind of assistance to her grandmother in the days ahead because Abuelita is dying.

After reflecting on her struggle with her father's insistence that she attend chapel and how Abuelita comforted her with food and a warm touch after the argument, the narrator leaves her family's home because she feels that her grandmother is hungry. When she arrives at her house, she finds that Abuelita has died, her face to the window, mouth open as if she had tried to say something in her final breaths. The narrator strokes her cheek and tells her that "I heard you, Abuelita." She takes her grandmother to the tub to wash her body, and when she does, moths begin to emerge from Abuelita's mouth. She recalls a time when Abuelita had told her that moths reside in everyone's soul and eat their spirit up, and she realizes that as these moths fill the room, a part of Abuelita remains with her always. And finally, the narrator cries for the first time in the story, out of both sadness and relief for the anguish they have shared in life.

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