The Death of the Moth–Virginia Woolf

In Virginia Woolf’s Death of a Moth, Woolf uses various rhetorical devices to prove her intention that death will always overpower and overcome life.  Woolf uses intricate imagery when describing the moth being trapped in the window pane. For example, she states, “Watching him, it seemed as if a fibre, very thin but pure, of the enormous energy of the world had been thrust into his frail and diminutive body.” Up until it became trapped, the moth had not fully experienced the negative force that life could have on it. It had experienced a life of freedom, which was a positive one. Now trapped and facing the reality of dying, the moth has all of the negative energy of the world thrust upon it suddenly.  

Woolf also uses sentence structure to further prove her point. In the beginning of her essay, Woolf describes life in long and flowing sentences.  However, with the first mention of death, that sort of sentence type ceases. The sentences then become short and choppy to prove the effect that death has on life.

Woolf describes death as an “all powerful source,” and arranges her piece to effectively convey this point. The beginning of the piece describes the hope that both Woolf and the moth had during the first moments of the moth’s capture. However, as the anecdote progresses, we begin to see the loss of hope from both the moth and Woolf, as she “laid the pencil down again.” Using this chronology shows the futility of the attempt to overcome death.

–Katie Tegenkamp


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