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“Transfiguration” by Annie Dillard Essay

In her essay “Transfiguration” Annie Dillard depicts the imagery of life, death, and destiny to help her reader understand the relationship between the components of a meaningful life. Throughout the essay, Dillard goes into extraordinary detail while describing ordinary things in order to communicate her ideas. By using the images of a candle, the wings of a moth disappearing suddenly, and a moth’s skeleton acting as a wick the author is able to weave the idea of fulfilling one’s life destiny between the dominating presence of life and death in the essay. By the end of the work the author imparts the idea that you cannot appreciate life without recognizing the roles of death and destiny. The author’s constant use of the image of a candle communicates that she is trying to emphasize the potential of life. Like a candle, life is an amazing tool that can enlighten others and burn on. However, if focus is lost even for an instant, then like a candle life can go out forever.

Dillard also stresses the idea that the presence of death forces us to appreciate life. Only when the moth catches fire in death is the author able to notice the “blue sleeves of my sweater, the green leaves of jewelweed by my side, the ragged red trunk of a pine.” In its death, the moth enlightens its surroundings as a candle and allows Dillard to appreciate the beauty of the world around her. In contrast to the potential of life, Dillard emphasizes the inevitability of death with the image of the bug corpses “shrunken and gray, webbed to the floor with dust.” She further stresses that death can end life suddenly as she describes the moth dying “flame frazzled and fried in a second.” If death is inevitable then fulfilling ones destiny, in many ways, is a race against a clock that can stop ticking at any time. When Dillard uses the phrase “disappearing utterly” it is an effort to portray the idea that life, as beautiful as it may be, can vanish in an instant.

Facing the inevitability of death often prompts people to examine their lives and wonder if they have fulfilled their destiny. The image of the moth dying as it flies into the flame and transforms into a wick is one of the most profound images in the piece. The author uses this metamorphosis to tie together the relationship between life, death, and destiny when she expresses her concern over whether the moth “… had done her work.” In the case of the moth, it is possible that only in its death did the moth fulfill its life destiny by illuminating the world for Dillard. The tricky thing about fulfilling one’s life destiny is that both life and death stand as a hurdle.

This is evident when the author describes herself warning her class of naive students to “go at your life with a broadax” and dive head first into what they are passionate about. As a writer, the essayist is cautioning her students of the mundane obstacles that life can throw at a aspiring author such as going to the bank and putting kids to bed. In the pursuit of fulfilling one’s life destiny both life and death can stand as obstacles. In using imagery of a candle, the wings of a moth disappearing suddenly, and a moth’s skeleton acting as a wick the Dillard expresses the idea that one cannot fulfill their own life destiny without recognizing to role of life and death.

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