Imagery and Tone of Virginia Woolf’s and Annie Dillard’s Storie

Death of the Moths

Decades apart from one another, Virginia Wolfe and Annie Dillard both wrote short stories entitled The Death of a Moth and The Death of the Moth respectfully. Both have obvious similarities in the tittles and the subject matter. Despite this, they both present different imagery and tones to the readers. While both discuss the inevitability of death, Dillard’s peace presents a more optimistic approach to life while Wolfe’s story presents life as unimportant until the moment of death.

The Inevitability of Death in Wolfe's and Annie Dillard's Death of a Moth

After reading the pieces, the reader is let with the impression that death is inevitable from both stories. Dillard starts this observation off early, wondering at the ready supply of food found by the spider in her bathroom. Looking at the immaculately clean floor she wonders, “on what fool’s errand an earwig, or a moth, or a sow bug, would visit that clean corner of the house behind the toilet.

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” (Dillard) Despite them having an entire house to wander through, all of these creatures are walking towards their death despite the alternative preferable options presented to them. The conclusion being that they had no choice but to march towards their deaths. It was almost as if their lives where marked on a path from which they could not deviate. Wolfe echoed this idea, when watching the moth fly around the room and realizing that all that reminded for him was “to fly to a third corner and then to a fourth?”(Wolfe) Wolfe seemed to be reinforcing the idea that life is a series of steps, the end of which is predetermined and cannot be altered.

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Going along with this logic, someone cannot simply cease walking down the path. While watching the moth struggle to move, she also came to the realization that, “the failure and awkwardness were the approach of death.” (Wolfe) When it is time to die, there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. Despite the similarities in the subject matter, the reader gains very different impressions of life after reaching the conclusion of the pieces.

Dillard's Optimistic Approach to Life in Death of the Moth

While she discussed the inevitability of death in her story, Annie Dillard approached the subject of life in a fairly optimistic way. When the moths at her campsite where were melted onto various objects, they were temporally weighed down and stuck by obstacles. Dillard was able to free them, “by a quick flip with a stick,” (Dillard) reliving them of the burdens weighing them down. Despite being weighed trapped by their troubles temporally, the moths were able to fly again. She also presents a very optimistic view of her own life as well as the moths. At the very beginning of her story, she informs the reader, “I live alone with two cats,”(Dillard). Despite this typically being considered a sad statement of her being alone, it conveys to the reader that she is still able to make connections that give her enjoyment to the outside world. She goes on to confirm that she does not, “mind living alone.”(Dillard) In this way Dillard reinforces the idea that an individual can have a full and happy life despite an appearance of isolation. All in all, Dillard presents an overall optimistic approach towards life to the reader. However, the same cannot be said of Wolfe in The Death of the Moth.

Wolfe's Pessimistic Approach to Life in Her Story

Virginia Wolfe presents a much more pessimistic view of life to the reader. After reading her story very few readers are surprised to learn that she killed herself shortly after writing it. When she observes the moth flying during the day, she informs the reader, “Moths that fly by day are not properly to be called moths.”(Dillard) In other words, being different or unique makes you no longer a person, or at least not belonging around other people. This make life treacherous and tedious to endure. As she continues to inspect the moths travels, she finds, “his zest in enjoying this meager opportunities to the full, pathetic.”(Wolfe) Apparently, attempting to make the most out of your opportunities is pointless and the one trying will eventually fail. Either they will achieve them and then die, or die without achieving them making all efforts futile. Wolfe goes on claiming that, “one is apt to forget all about life, seeing it humped and bossed and garnished and cumbered so that it has to move with the greatest circumspection and dignity,”(Wolfe). In other words, life is full of rules and obligations that only death can free an individual from. In the end, Wolfe’s The Death of the Moth focuses on viewing life in a more pessimistic way.

Similarities of Both Death of the Moths

There are undeniable similarities between Dillard and Wolfe’s stories, other than the title. Both focus on life as a major theme throughout. However, the feeling the reader gets after reading the stories are drastically different. Dillard focuses on the positive aspects, highlighting how death can be glorious, but the process of life itself is an exciting and even hopeful journey. Wolfe on the other hand focuses on death as being a moment of freedom and approaches life as a meaningless disappointment. Both were well written and enjoyable to compare, yet they left the reader feeling very different emotions when coming to the conclusion of the stories.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
Cite this page

Imagery and Tone of Virginia Woolf’s and Annie Dillard’s Storie. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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