The Moths

by Helena María Viramontes

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In the short story "The Moths," the author makes many points about coming of age, religion, death, and family.

The characterization of the narrator, known only by her sisters' nickname "Bull Hands," is seen at the beginning of the story through her actions as a rebellious, mischievous child. She is berated by her sisters and her family for her resistant attitude towards attending Mass, and she is even admittedly disrespectful to her grandmother by doubting her healing remedies. Charged with taking care of Abuelita in her dying days, the narrator begins to change. One of her biggest changes is her realization on the nature of death. This realization is foreshadowed by her thoughts as she watches the sun set. She personifies the sun when she says that it understands it is "finally defeated" and "sinks into the realization that it cannot, with all its power to heal or burn, exist forever." Her epiphany on the sun mirrors her eventual understanding of Abuelita's death. She begins to understand that nothing in life is permanent and that sometimes things end so that new growth can take place. The reader is allowed a glimpse of how Abuelita's death may affect the narrator in a positive way when she calls for her mother as she carries Abuelita's body into the bathroom to bathe it. Soon after, she admits that she needs her mother in her time of grief. This signals a possible rebirth of a more positive connection with her mother, an emotional connection that had previously been satisfied by her relationship with Abuelita.

The author's optimistic outlook on the nature of death can also be seen in the imagery she presents of Abuelita. As she washes her grandmother's body, the narrator views the scars on Abuelita's back, hinting that, in addition to the pain of cancer, Abuelita has suffered much in life. Death has finally ended her suffering, and she is free from life's pain. This victory over the struggles of life is symbolized by the author's description of the way her grandmother's hair resembles an eagle's wings as it spreads out in the bath water. The moths that also come out of Abuelita's mouth work to symbolize her grandmother's freedom from pain and her journey to God. Moths in the story are described as "fluttering to light" as they make their way upwards to the light in the bathroom. In this case, the moths symbolize Abuelita, and the light symbolizes her journey towards God.

Finally, the author sends the message that organized religion is not the only way to find God. Though the narrator is resistant to her family's religious rituals and is at times openly impious, she finds spirituality through her relationship with Abuelita. The author uses much religious terminology to explain this point. The narrator says that the way her grandmother looked at her made her feel loved and secure, "like God was supposed to make you feel." Later on in the story, she makes preparations to wash Abuelita's body and does so "with the sacredness of a priest preparing his vestments." The narrator's immersion into the bathtub at the end of the story can almost be seen as a baptism of sorts. The author seems to say that our love for people can allow us indirectly to view God's love for us.

This story uses imagery, characterization, and symbolism to create a beautiful commentary on family, God, and the tragic forces that can sometimes promote healing and regeneration.

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