Read the essay below and write an essay of approximately 400-500 words that
Explains what you, the reader, think the main meaning of theme of the poem is, and
Analyses how one of the following literary devices or techniques help to create that
meaning: plot, character, narrative point of view, setting, symbolism, style, figurative
language, imagery, tone, or irony
I strongly recommend that you begin by doing some pre-writing, working out a thesis
and preparing an outline for your essay. Be sure, therefore, to give yourself some time
for general revision and careful proofreading. Please double space your essay.
The Death of the Moth
By Virginia Woolf (1941)
Moths that fly by day are not properly to be called moths; they do not excite that
pleasant sense of dark autumn nights and ivy-blossom which the commonest yellow-
underwing asleep in the shadow of the curtain never fails to rouse in us. They are hybrid
creatures, neither gay like butterflies nor somber like their own species. Nevertheless,
the present specimen, with his narrow hay-colored wings, fringed with a tassel of the
same color, seemed to be content with life. It was a pleasant morning, mid-September,
mild, benignant, yet with a keener breath than that of the summer months. The plow
was already scoring the field opposite the window, and where the share had been, the
earth was pressed flat and gleamed with moisture. Such vigor came rolling in from the
fields and the down beyond that it was difficult to keep the eyes strictly turned upon the
book. The rooks too were keeping one of their annual festivities; soaring round the tree
tops until it looked as if a vast net with thousands of black knots in it had been cast up
into the air; which, after a few moments, sank slowly down upon the trees until every
twig seemed to have a knot at the end of it. Then, suddenly, the net would be thrown
into the air again in a wider circle this time, with the utmost clamour and vociferation, as
though to be thrown into the air and settle slowly down upon the tree tops were a
tremendously exciting experience.
The same energy which inspired the rooks, the ploughmen, the horses, and even, it
seemed, the lean bare-backed downs, sent the moth fluttering from side to side of his
square of the windowpane. 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. He flew vigorously to one corner of his compartment, and after
waiting there a second, flew across to the other. What remained for him but to fly to a
third corner and then to a fourth? That was all he could do, in spite of the size of the
downs, the width of the sky, the far-off smoke of houses, and the romantic voice, now
and then, of a steamer out at sea. What he could do he did. Watching him, it seemed as
if a fiber, very thin but pure, of the enormous energy of the world had been thrust into
his frail and diminutive body. As often as he crossed the pane, I could fancy that a
thread of vital light became visible. He was little or nothing but life.
Yet, because he was so small, and so simple a form of the energy that was rolling in at
the open window and driving its way through so many narrow and intricate corridors in
my own brain and those of other human beings, there was something marvellous as
well as pathetic about him. It was as if someone had taken a tiny bead of pure life and
decking it as lightly as possible with down and feathers, had set it dancing and
zigzagging to show us the true nature of life. Thus displayed one could not get over the
strangeness of it. One is apt to forget all about life, seeing it humped and bossed, and
cumbered so that it has to move with the greatest circumspection and dignity. Again, the
thought of all that life might have been had he been born in any other shape caused one
to view his simple activities with a kind of pity.
After a time, tired by his dancing apparently, he settled on the window ledge in the sun,
and, the queer spectacle being at an end, I forgot about him. Then, looking up, my eye
was caught by him. He was trying to resume his dancing, but seemed either so stiff or
so awkward that he could only flutter to the bottom of the window-pane; and when he
tried to fly across it he failed. Being intent on other matters I watched these futile
attempts for a time without thinking, unconsciously waiting for him to resume his flight,
as one waits for a machine that has stopped momentarily, to start again without
considering the reason of its failure. After perhaps a seventh attempt he slipped from
the wooden ledge and fell, fluttering his wings, on to his back on the window sill. 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.
The legs agitated themselves once more. I looked as if for the enemy against which he
struggled. I looked out of doors. What had happened there? Presumably, it was midday,
and work in the fields had stopped. Stillness and quiet had replaced the previous
animation. The birds had taken themselves off to feed in the brooks. The horses stood
still. Yet the power was there all the same; massed outside, indifferent, impersonal, not
attending to anything in particular. Somehow it was opposed by the little hay-colored
moth. It was useless to try to do anything. One could only watch the extraordinary
efforts made by those tiny legs against an oncoming doom which could, had it chosen,
have submerged an entire city, not merely a city, but masses of human beings; nothing,
I knew, had any chance against death. Nevertheless, after a pause of exhaustion the
legs fluttered again. It was superb, this last protest, and so frantic that he succeeded at
last in righting himself. One’s sympathies, of course, were all on the side of life. Also,
when there was nobody to care or to know, this gigantic effort on the part of a
insignificant little moth, against a power of such magnitude, to retain what no one else
valued or desired to keep, moved one strangely. Again, somehow, one saw life, a pure
bead. I lifted the pencil again, useless though I knew it to be. But even as I did so, the
unmistakable tokens of death showed themselves. The body relaxed, and instantly grew
stiff. The struggle was over. The insignificant little creature now knew death. As I looked
at the dead moth, this minute wayside triumph of so great a force over so mean an
antagonist filled me with wonder. Just as life had been strange a few minutes before, so
death was now as strange. The moth having righted himself now lay most decently and
uncomplainingly composed. O yes, he seemed to say, death is stronger than I am.
Choose two of the following quotations; for each one,
Identity the author and title of the text
Explain the quotation’s significance to the main themes of the text
1. “Instead of shutting the gate, I opened it as wide as I could. I did not make any
decision to do this, it was just what I did.”
2. “He feels it is no good to appeal to people. But before five minutes have passed
he draws himself up, shakes his head as though he feels a sharp pain, and tugs
at the reins … He can bear it no longer.”
3. “We have been married now eight years. Does it not occur to you that this is the
first time we two, you and I, husband and wife, have had a serious conversation.”
4. “After her father’s death she went out very little; after her sweetheart went away,
people hardly saw her at all.”
5. “After dark, on the warrenlike streets of Brooklyn where I live, I often see women
who fear the worst from me. They seem to have set their faces on neutral and
with their purse straps strung across their chests bandolier-style, they forge
ahead as though bracing themselves against being tackled.”
6. “When I was a girl—my kitten—there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my
eyes—and before I could get there—[Covers her face an instant]. If they hadn’t
held me back, I would have—[Catches herself, looks upstairs where steps are
heard, falters weakly.]—hurt him.”
Choose one of the following essay questions, and write an essay of 500-800 words in
1. Minor character are important to the character development of main characters.
Discuss the importance of Dr. Rank in “A Doll’s House” and the hunchback in
2. The setting of a play or short story can be instrumental in conveying themes.
Consider the function of setting in “Trifles” and in “Boys and Girls.”
3. Compare the characterization of the mother in “Boys and Girls” and the speaker
in “I Want a Wife.”
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