The Death of the Moth Summary and Analysis: Virginia Woolf

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The Death of the Moth Summary:

The death of the Moth, by Virginia Woolf, is a narrative essay in which she writes about the wretched and pitiful moth’s death. The essay symbolizes the short life of moth that corresponds with the real nature of life and death. She is moved by the moth’s struggle and fight against the death and personified the moth by attributing it human pronoun “him”.

The author starts the essays by calling moths not the true moths as they don’t give the true sense of ‘dark autumn’ and ‘ivy-blossom’ to her. She calls them hybrid creature which doesn’t completely resemble the butterflies nor their own ancestral species. Despite its hybrid nature, the moth catches the author’s attention.

Woolf narrates the story of an amusing summer morning when the whole scenery outside has moved with stoutness. Everything around, filled with vigor, amuses her and it is impossible for her to concentrate on her book. She is thinking about the nature and all of the processes that nature inspired her when suddenly a moth, flying, and trembling from one side to another side of the window, catches her attention. She finds the moth to be filled with life and is much charmed by him that she couldn’t stop watching it.

While watching the moth, moving from one side of the window to other, she says that indeed anyone watching it will feel misfortune for him as not only he was small but also alone. There was nothing else for him to do other than flying dynamically from one corner to another corner of the windowsill. She speaks of the outer world that is large and energetic and compared it to the size of the moth and imagine that being so small, the moth is highly energetic. She wonders that what he would do if it was a bit bigger in size. Flying randomly the moths also flies near to the author. Woolf feels his texture being “thin but pure” fiber and its frail and body endorsed by enormous energy. Though he is little but full of life, she claims.

The energy, strength, and size of the moth produce a complicated thought in the authors’ mind about him, yet she claims that these though might also be produced in other’s mind as well. In her mind, there was something spectacular as well as pitiful about the moth. The marvelousness is in his representation of the true nature of life; dancing, zigzagging and full of energy. While watching the moth, she says, one, for the time being, forgets about his life and concentrates on it and couldn’t get over its uniqueness. But one feels pity because of the small and insignificant life he has and had been.

After sometimes, by continuous dancing, he makes himself settled on the window, eventfully. He was tired but he wants to fly again. He tries but fails. The little mortal is pooped. To her, his movement seems awkward. He tries several times to get up but every time fails. Finally, death sneak on him, the little, poor and pitiable creature. The author tries to help him but then she stops, realizing that it is the sign of death.

The author wonders about the enemy against whom the moth fights the battle of life and death. She looks outside the window if there was something outside but finds nothing. Still, she notices the last struggle of the moth to fight for life. She is taken by her his strength and strong will to live. He was struggling hard with his tiny legs but “nothing has a chance against the death”, she says. His last moves, the last protest, was splendid. He couldn’t do anything else but succeeded to right his posture.

The last words of the author are extremely powerful. She explains the true nature of the universe and people living in it. No one care about you struggle in life, or how much you fight against death to survive, yet everyone sympathizes with life. Similarly, no one cares about the moth and his struggle against death. According to Woolf, the moth struggle for that life which no one valued, desired or want to keep. This difference in attitude, according to Woolf, moves one strangely.

After watching moth’s continuous efforts, she picks her pencil that was now useless. The death has shown himself and the moth’s struggle was over. She looked at him realizing the strangeness of life and death. Just like the life was strange, a few minutes ago, now the death is also strange. The moth, to her, seems to say that “life is stronger than he his”.

The Death of the Moth Analysis:

About the Author:

Virginia Woolf is a predominant and a well-known feminist writer in the late nineteen and the early twentieth century. She is best known for her novels. Her novels, by non-direct methods to tales, employed a chief effect on the genre. She also penned revolutionary essays on various topics. Her subject matter includes the power and politics, literary history, literary theory and women’s writing. She also tested her fine style of writing with biographies. She agonized the fits of depression in her personal life which resulted in a suicide in 1949.


The Death of the Moth is a narrative essay by Virginia Woolf in which she symbolically represents the life of a moth full of energy and enthusiasm and his struggle against the death.


In the essay, the death of the Moth, Virginia Woolf observes moth as a metaphor for life. She implicitly builds a connection between the moth and her own life. At the beginning of the essay, Woolf calls the moth a creature full of life just like she was once full of life. By narrating the story of struggle and fight of a moth, she indirectly represents her own life as a struggle against death. Woolf personified the moth and calls it “him” throughout the essay.

Critical Appreciation:

Virginia Woolf, in the essay The Death of the Moth, implicitly represents the moth as a metaphor of life. Woolf analyzes the life as a nonstop struggle against the death. Woolf’s aim for writing this essay is to portray the wretchedness of life against the death. She represents the death as the strongest force of nature against which the life has no control. No matter how much you struggle but when the token of death signals, everything is useless.

Woolf’s supposition, ‘life is stronger than I’, offers the cover to her essay. By tempting the readers in the sensitive and emotional state, she build, throughout the essay, the formation of the extreme supremacy of death. Woolf not only portrays the effect of death on moth but also on the rest of nature. When the death arrives, it takes control of the world. Even the speaker feels powerless in face of the death and argues that the death has power over everything.

The essay starts with charming, elegant phrases, “It was a pleasant morning, mid-September, mild, benignant, yet with a keener breath than that of the summer months”. But the style promptly changes when the chief sign of death heralds. Throughout the essay, death is defined in various ways. All of the ways portrays death as the most influential power. “Failure and awkwardness” personified the death when the moth signaled “the approach of death”.

Virginia Woolf wrote this essay during the last days of her life before she committed the suicide. The essay is the representation of the last days of her life in the form of a moth. By the short life-span of moth, she means the short life of human beings particularly hers. In the early phases of life, one seems to be energetic and full of life. As life passes, the energy goes away and death approaches. Then no matter how much you struggle against this natural force, the death more powerful and nothing has control over it. Similarly, this is the case with Woolf’s life. She has struggled hard but is powerless. The death is unavoidable.

Woolf, through the metaphor of the moth, portrays the real nature of the universe and the people living around. No one cares about you until you are dead. No one care how much you struggle against the death but all they care if you are alive. Woolf is a keen observer and throughout the essay by observing the moth creates the true picture of life and death and the struggle one has to do to survive. The struggle is only useful until the token of death is not shown. Once the death heralds, nothing has control over it just as she is powerless and helpless to the moth.

Main Themes:

Following is the only main theme of the essay the Death of the Moth;

  • The Power of Death:

The main theme of the whole story is death. The author uses moth as a metaphor for life. The moth is energetic and full of life but powerless against the death. One feels extremely pathetic for the small creature but it is reality of the nature whether you are small or monstrous big creature, once death heralds, nothing can stop it. The author time and again use the word death to emphasize the idea of death and its power. The struggle of the moth to fight against the death is very inspiring and leave the impression on the reader’s mind. It gives us a lesson that we should struggle hard and never give up easily just like the moth. He struggled hard and nothing but succeeded in righting his posture.

By saying “life is “stronger than I”, Woolf concluded the essay by representing the enormous power of the death.