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Virginia Woolf’s “The Death of the Moth” and Scott Momaday’s “The Way to Rainy Mountain” seem to have very little in common contextually. Woolf describes the fleeting moments of life of a moth as it attempts to escape from a window. Momaday, however, describes the life of his Grandmother as he treks to see her grave at her home. Despite the differences in their stories, both authors seem to share a similar problem: a lack of identity. Woolf and Momaday confront their situations in different manner in attempt to explore their own identities.
In “The Death of the Moth”, author Virginia Woolf contextualizes the sheer power of death as it pertains to life. She uses the actions of a day-time moth to signify the simplicity of life and the overarching strenght of death. Woolf explores the contrast of life and death while she watches the seemingly “pathetic” attempt of a daytime moth to escape a window (105). The “power” and “oncoming doom” of death seems to halt the world around it, even if just for an insignificant moth (106,107), “stillness had replaced the previous animation” outside the window just as death had consumed the life within it (106).
Here, death does not simply consume the life of the moth, but it pulls the attention and focus of everything around. The concept of death can be difficult to understand because it is impossible to experience and describe it. This difficulty becomes apparent as Woolf describes both the ideas of life and death. The opening paragraph is littered with descriptive detail such as the “width of the sky” and “romantic voice” in telling and elegant sentences.
Woolf’s river of words easily flows through the essay and depicts the lively image outside of her window. However, there is a sudden shift when she begins to depict death. Woolf uses rough, uneven phrases as she grapples with the language and cannot seem to uncover the correct words to make her point. Perhaps Woolf uses such structure to enhance her idea: death overpowers life to the point where it even interrupts Woolf’s smooth composition. Just as death seems to make the world stop in its tracks, it pulls the brakes on Woolf’s writing. She creates paradoxes as she depicts the floundering moth as “marvelous” and “pathetic” without being able to to find an appropriate description (106). Perhaps he we discover why Woolf’s attention is drawn to this moth. Surely she had seen bugs or animals die before, but this certain experience stood out to be written about. Woolf may be struggling within her own life. Perhaps she feels suicidal at the time watching this moth struggle in the window. She herself may be displaying empathy for the moth, whom she feels related to by a similar situation. The tension in Woolf’s writing as she discusses the moth proves that “death is stronger than [she] is”. Woolf parallels her own struggles with those of the moth. Woolf is fluttering against the window of her own life and perhaps she is now getting tired. Woolf may feel she does not belong just as the day-moth is neither gay like butterflies, nor somber like [its] own species”. Woolf may feel out of place and separated from the world as she looks through her own window. We know the world does not stop for the death of a moth. However, perhaps for the moth, on the brink of death, everything in its own world becomes still and Woolf is sharing that perception. The author sheds light on her personal experiences through her observations of the moth. She concludes the paper with the acknowledgment that death conquers all, including herself and her writing.
In Momaday’s “The Way to Rainy Mountain”, the writer reflects on his Grandmother, Aho, and her life after she passes away. Momaday’s Grandmother was a member of the Kiowa Tribe, the last culture to evolve in North America (309). Momaday decides to make a 1500 mile trek to the Rainy Mountain, the location of his Grandmother’s house and grave. Momaday depicts the Kiowas as resilient as they “backed away forever” from a ritual sun-dance when soldiers “slaughtered” wild herds on the grounds. However, his Grandmother was “without bitterness, for as long as she lived” despite the unjust treatment of her tribe (311). Here, Momaday posits that his Grandmother cared less for what is lost and more for life could offer. All of Aho’s journey and experience end at the Rainy Mountain: the place she was born and the place she perished. “The Rainy Mountain” is ingrained “like a memory in [Aho’s] blood”, yet despite this Momaday only “looks back once” and leaves the mountain (310, 312). Here Momaday displays a lack of sentimental value for the mountain despite its significance to his Grandmother and his heritage. This stark contrast between Aho’s and Momaday’s perceptions is important to note because Momaday clearly had some relation to his grandmother. Momaday is making a long trek out to the mountain and there is some connection to be made. However, Momaday appears unattached and poses the question: why did he make the trip? Perhaps this stands to show that everyone has their own Rainy Mountain. Aho found security and comfort in her home on the Rainy Mountain. Aho had a special connection to a place where she belonged and would always be accepted. Momaday may still be searching for his own home. In fact, Momaday may have embarked on this journey with hopes that he would connect to his ancestry the same way his Grandmother did. Momaday may feel lost and hoped he could share the special connection that made the mountain so important to his grandmother. Aho “had never seen [the Crows]” but “could tell of [them)” because she found pride in her heritage and ancestors (310). Aho adopts these stories as her own history. Aho shows her commitment and love for the mountain as it becomes her own life and her own heritage and her own importance. Aho would always feel welcome at the mountain because she made it her home. Momaday may be searching for what his Grandmother found: a place where he belongs. Perhaps Momaday travels 1500 miles to search for the unique connection that his grandmother found; a connection to the Rainy Mountain, where she began and ended her life. However Momaday fails to find what he is looking for with but a simple glance at the mountain before he retreats. He is afraid to immerse himself in the same way his Grandmother did and therefore fails to find a home at the mountain.
In respect to Momaday’s Grandmother, perhaps Woolf is searching for her own Rainy Mountain. Woolf repeatedly alludes to the power and strength of death, as it is a focus of her essay. However, Momaday states that Aho focused on the life of the Kiowa people more so than the losses they suffered. Here lies the issue with Woolf’s focus in “The Death of a Moth”. She seems to parallel the moth’s struggles with her own. The day-moth can see its freedom through the clear glass window yet cannot reach it and the moth is out of place and does not fit in with any of its species. Woolf may feel similarly to the moth and perhaps anticipates death nearing her own life. Momaday echoes this idea as his composition becomes literal and choppy when he reaches the Rainy Mountain just as Woolf’s does as she describes death. Woolf and Momaday alike demonstrate tension in their writing as the reach the climax of their writings. We can relate out conclusion of Momaday to Woolf because of their similar positions. Momaday seems to be searching for his own home and his own niche in society and struggles to write about it when he cannot find it. Just like the day moth, the out of place Woolf may attempt to find her home in writing. Perhaps writing is the confidant and safe haven that she searches for as she struggles with suicidal thoughts in her own life. Momaday’s writing depicts his anxiety as it relates to finding his own home when he only briefly glances at the Rainy Mountain. He fails to feel the same connection that Aho does and shows his dissapointment. Woolf, as well, struggles with a similar lack of identity. Her life mirrors that of the moth; she feels trapped without her own Rainy Mountain to turn to. The Rainy Mountain acts as an identity for Aho; she is and was one with her tribe and her home. Woolf searches for self identity yet feels trapped, like the moth, which is why she focuses on death and the struggle leading to its demise. The rainy mountain symbolizes acceptance and feeling part of society. Woolf perhaps is trapped inside of her own window looking beyond at her own Rainy Mountain.
Woolf seems to connect her own life to that of the moth which is evidenced by the tension in her writing. The reader cannot know for sure what Woolf’s personal experiences include but her writing indicates that she could be struggling with something in her own life. WE can only wonder what struggles exist in Woolf’s life. Momaday mirrors this idea as he fails to delve into detail about his Grandmother’s death. He focuses on her experiences but fails to connect himself with the Mountain or his ancestry. Both authors seem to struggle with their own identities and fail to find their own niche in society. Perhaps writing is the niche in society that both authors are searching for or perhaps, it is writing that made them feel alone and out of society in the first place.
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