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Rhetorical Analysis of
Death of the Moth

  In the story "The Death of the Moth", Virginia Woolf illustrates the universal struggle between life and death.  She portrays in passing the valiance of the struggle, of the fight of life against death, but she acknowledges as well the futility of this struggle.  Virginia Woolf’s purpose in writing this passage is to depict the patheticness of life in the face of death, and to garner respect for the awesome power that death has over life.

  Woolf’s conclusion, "death is stronger than I am", provides the cap in her argument.  Throughout the piece, she built up her case, inducing in the reader emotional states that lead to the conception of the awesome power of death.  The piece starts off with smooth, flowing sentences: " It was a pleasant morning, mid-September, mild, benignant, yet with a keener breath than that of the summer months" (1267).  But at the first sign of death, her style changes instantly; choppy phrases such as "so stiff or so awkward", or "The horses stood still" (1268).  She also switches from using vivid, palpable descriptions to using more visceral literary devices, alliteration, varying-length sentences.  Her entire style of writing is altered by the forceful approach of death, to a more physical form mirroring the force that it describes.  As death takes over the moth, Woolf’s rhetorical transformation becomes complete: "When there was nobody to care or to know, this gigantic effort on the part of an 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." (1269).  Death has come, destroying not only the moth’s life, but also the smooth continuity of Woolf’s reality.

  Descriptions of death, "a power of such magnitude" (1269), contribute as well to the image of the all-powerful Death as well.  Death is described from many different angles throughout the piece; all such angles are intended to portray death in its most powerful light.  Death is personified; the "failure and awkwardness" of the moth heralded "the approach of death" (1268).  The moth was up against "an oncoming doom which could, had it chosen, have submerged an entire city" (1268); it therefore comes as little surprise when it fails in its struggle for life, and is forced to admit, "Death is stronger than I am".

  The image of an all-powerful death is further enlarged as the effects of death on the rest of nature are shown.  As death approached, "stillness and quiet … replaced the previous animation." (1268).  Even Woolf herself becomes motionless in the face of death; she "laid [her] pencil down" (1268), unable to help the moth with its struggle.  Death takes control of the world when it arrives; it has power over all life, and all life is, and should be, awed by it.

  Virginia Woolf’s purpose in writing this piece is to remind us of the power that death has over life.  She shows us the futility of attempting to avoid death, of attempting to overcome its indomitable will.  She conveys this message not so much with logic, but instead with emotions, feelings, half-written ideas.  Woolf makes us feel the death of the moth, and so imparts on us a more complete understanding of, and respect for, the eternal power of death.