Ken Zinser

On Virginia Woolf’s The Death of the Moth


Something that should be noted about Virginia Woolf’s essay is the possible relation she puts between the moth and everything else she sees from her window: the plough in the field, the rooks in the trees, the horses, and even the hills. If you take a look at the first sentence of the second paragraph, she compares the energy in the others to that of the moth. Think about fitting all the energy of an entire horse into an almost minuscule moth. The moth is as full of life as any other creature.

In class, we spent time talking about the last sentence of that same paragraph, “He was little or nothing but life.” It seems like the focus was on the words ‘nothing’ and ‘little’, making the line seem pessimistic. I would say it is quite the opposite. The little moth is, as Woolf almost puts it, an example of the definition of life itself having all the energy of any other being. The last sentence of the third paragraph implies that the potential of life in the moth could rival that of you or me. She think, with pity, about what could have been “had he been born in any other shape.”

Continuing with the comparison of the moth to the other objects and creatures, I would say there is almost a symmetry between them. Towards the beginning of the last paragraph, the moth lays on its back struggling against death. The things seen out the window, too, have stopped, bringing a quiet over the scene. This, I thought, was an idea worth exploring.

This is me more or less looking to analyze what Woolf has written, what I found to be an extraordinary essay, rather than find the techniques and styles within the writing. Not every piece of writing needs multi-syllabic words around every corner, however.