Death of a Moth


Virginia Woolf relates to this hay-colored moth on a personal plane; she discerns her own ultimatum of life from how this moth opposes its natural course. “… I watched these futile attempts for a time without thinking, unconsciously waiting for him to resume his flight, as one waits for a machine… to start again without considering the reason of its failure.” Woolf was a depressed, possibly bipolar, socialite throughout her literary career, and most recent to writing Death of the Moth, discovered an increasingly intense agitation from her condition that cumulated in her suicide. As the moth wanes from his otherwise mundane grace, Woolf fluctuates between a desperate wish for the moth to inexplicably overcome its natural course to continue life in a narrow windowpane, which he accepts comfortably, and a hesitancy to interfere with him for fear of interrupting what she could learn from his confrontation with inevitability. When Woolf realizes she is enthralled with the life of this moth, she doesn’t seem to actually personally connect with the moth at this point, but she does identify with the moth, hence switching “it” with a personal “him” to accompany her.

He does begin to personally connect with her when “…[she] looked as if for the enemy against which he struggled… stillness and quiet had replaced the previous animation… yet the power was still there all the same… somehow it was opposed to the little hay-colored moth.” Woolf almost panics when she realized “failure and awkwardness were the approach of death,” as her own festering social awkwardness and mental health failure may precipitate death akin to the moth’s. Analyzing the moth itself, hay coloring mixes both brown, related to dependability and simplicity, and a dim yellow, suggesting decay; thus, a hay color connotes a natural power, one that could submerge a city, of decay that Woolf initially rejects, for her “sympathies were all on the side of life,” but she understands that nothing has any chance against death.

“This minute wayside triumph of so great a force over so mean an antagonist filled me with wonder,” consequentially, Woolf is uncertain of herself when “just as life had been strange a few minutes before, so death was now as strange.” Woolf understands the signs of death and how intense a confrontation with it is, but when the moth resigns with humility that “death is stronger than I am,” then Woolf first establishes a first person perspective for the moth; therefore, she speaks for both the moth and herself. They both must resign to the ultimate antagonist, despite the furious engagement of such an inevitability, and must accept it as a natural creature.

Woolf identifies with “the moth,” as opposed to just “a moth,” as the natural decay of one’s life, and, however one might accept that if at all, it is naturally confronted with one’s own fierce resistance, but always bested by the meanest antagonist: death and the ultimate humility it demands.