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The death of a mouth

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Virginia Woolf - Death of the Moth

As she examines the struggle of a moth trying to achieve something impossible by going through a windowpane to reach the outdoors, Virginia Woolf sees the moth in a new light, a light that identifies the moth not as insignificant and in demand of pity, but a small creature of the world, a pure being that was afforded the gift of being “nothing but life.”

The very fact that Woolf chooses a moth as the primary focus of her observation could be random; however, it would appear not to be. Moths are commonly thought of as dull, gray creatures, often despised, always thought of as “insignificant.” By pointing out the “beads of life” evident in the lowly moth, Woolf shows the value not of being a moth, but of being intent on a cause, being willing to “dance.” The gray moth is separated from the colorful world outside the window, but he does not know that he is simply a moth, that he doesn’t hold the right to pass through the window. The moth doesn’t see himself—there are no mirrors for him to peer into: the moth could just as easily know he is a butterfly, a beautiful creature who would be welcomed into the outside world. “He was nothing but life,” and life is not required to take a specific form; life does not give preference to outer beauty. Whether he knows he is a drab gray moth or thinks he is a butterfly vibrant with color, the moth chooses to live his life through a cause, and even though it may show itself to be futile in the end, he has had a cause for living, a passion, and this is ideal for Woolf.

Woolf tells of a “queer feeling of pity” for the moth, germinating from the “helplessness of his attitude”—she originally sees him as an “insignificant creature,” one whose struggles should not touch her. But the struggle of the moth in his valiant battle against “so mean an antagonist” (death) opens Woolf’s eyes, opens her to the beauty of the moth, and to the beauty of... Show More

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