Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 410

Illustration of PDF document

Download The Moths Study Guide

Subscribe Now

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.

Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 784

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 healed and nurtured so many, is dying. She lies in her bed and looks out the open window at the Bird of Paradise blooming without. Her eyelids remain partly open even when she is sleeping, show-ing her one gray and one brown eye as if she is watching and remembering everything around her. The narrator has never kissed her grandmother but has held her hand for hours.

One day she goes out to the market and on the way stops in at a chapel, feeling utterly alone in its cold, vacant marble interior. After purchasing the few items that Abuelita needs at a store, she returns to the house to find her mother crying in the kitchen. She puts the cans of soup away in the cupboard, without kissing or comforting her mother, then stiffly pats her on the back, aware that her relationship with her mother is hampered by all the quarrels and beatings in their household and by her own feelings of oddness and helplessness. She goes and sits on the porch swing until her mother departs and the sun begins to set, then goes into the kitchen to prepare soup for Abuelita’s evening meal. She notes the defiance of the sun just before it changes color and finally sinks below the horizon in the moment of illumination when sun and earth meet. She switches on the kitchen light as darkness falls—the very moment at which Abuelita passes away.

The narrator finds her grandmother lying dead on her side facing the window, her mouth open as if she is about to speak. “I heard you,” she assures the dead woman, and strokes her cheek. She carefully undresses and bathes Mama Luna’s body with a basin and towel, then fills the bathtub with steaming water. Stripping down to nakedness herself, she lifts her grandmother and carries her into the bathroom, lowering both their bodies together into the tub. There she cradles Abuelita, assuring her again that she had been heard, and comforting her with rocking motions as one would a child. The water from the tub overflows onto the floor, and moths flutter up out of the grandmother’s mouth to the light of the bulb in the ceiling of the bathroom. The granddaughter wants to assuage the loneliness of dying. She wants to return to the womb again with her grandmother so as never to be alone. She wants her own mother. As the bathroom fills with moths the girl begins to sob, crying for herself, for her mother, for her grandmother, feeling the misery of being half-born, and in rocking and comforting the dead Mama Luna, comforting the traumatized child in herself as well.

Next

Themes