English author, Virginia Woolf in her powerful essay, “The Death of the Moth”, illustrates us with the struggle between life and death when observing a moth. Woolf’s purpose is to help humans learn the value and understand as well as grasp the concept of death. She adopts a solace tone in her essay in order to help the readers be more comprehensive on the struggle that not only the moth faced but that we also, as humans, face. Virginia Woolf achieves her purpose through her use of her solace tone and through her use of personification.
Her solace tone really helps establish her purpose. Woolf keeps a constant tone throughout her essay which helps us really grow on and adapt to what she’s trying to convey to the reader. One example of her solace tone is when she writes: “One could not help watching him. One, was, indeed, conscious of a queer feeling of pity for him. The possibilities of pleasure seemed that morning so enormous and so various that to have only a moth’s part in life, and a day moth’s at that, appeared a hard fate, and his zest in enjoying his meager opportunities to the full, pathetic.” This helps the reader become sympathetic towards how the moths life is slowly coming to an end.
Another phrase that stood out to me is “The helplessness of his attitude roused me. It flashed upon me that he was in difficulties; he could no longer raise himself; his legs struggled vainly. But, as I stretched out a pencil, meaning to help him to right himself, it came over me that the failure and awkwardness were the approach of death. I laid the pencil down again.” She was trying to help the butterfly, help it get back to his feet. But she stopped herself and laid the pencil down again to show the reader how much effort is given even when the moth knows the end is near. Her tone creates an image of how the struggle is between life and death. Allowing the reader to become sympathetic and to help grow a feeling of appreciation for life.
Woolf also utilizes personification to give the event occurring more significance and detail. Life, death, and the moth are personified, and by the addition of human-like characteristics. Virginia applies this device when she writes, “the insignificant little creature now knew death,” and “O yes, he seemed to say, death is stronger than I am”. She gives the moth a more realistic feeling and tries to connect a sense of sympathy and feeling between the reader and the moth. It’s as if the reader wants us to almost reflect on our personal experiences of when we’ve gone through a time of struggle. An event in where we felt inside that we couldn’t get back up, but we kept fighting and trying to get back up. Another example would be when she states: “Nevertheless, the present specimen…seemed to be content with life”. She gives the reader an impression that the moth FEELS. By using such a simple creature’s struggle against death in personification, Woolf creates a beautiful essay on the fragility and impermanence of life.
Courtney from Study Moose