Helena Maria Viramontes’ “The Moths” tells the story of a young, rebellious girl who is sent out to look after and provide company to her dying grandmother. The girl willingly obliges her grandmother’s request, but she also feels resentment towards her mother whom she thinks only sends her over to her grandmother’s house in order to prevent her from quarreling with her other sisters.
At the same time, the girl finds comfort in her grandmother’s house, where she feels loved and accepted for who she is unlike in her own household. Ultimately, the grandmother’s death leads the girl to the realization of how fleeting life is, and to wish for the company of her own mother while she tended to her grandmother’s lifeless body. Hence, Viramontes’ “The Moths” is a beautiful and poignant story about how an individual’s sense of loss and the awareness of how everything in the world passes away contribute to an appreciation for genuine connection in his or her relationships.
However, it is by using the first person in narrating the story that the author is able to elicit empathy for the feelings of loneliness and isolation underlying the protagonist’s rebellious nature. Undoubtedly, it is by allowing readers to gain a more personal insight into the mind and feelings of the protagonist as she encounters internal and external conflicts that the author is able to effectively convey the girl’s emotions and reactions to these conflicts, and how these difficulties lead to her learning and realizations.
Indeed, Viramontes’ utilization of the first person point of view in “The Moths” enables readers to gain full access to the protagonist’s actions and emotions especially in regards to the girl’s sense of loss with her grandmother’s death. Through the girl’s thoughts, the reader become aware that while they may not have been that close, the girl feels overwhelmed with grief and loneliness mainly because the grandmother had been the only person she had become attached to.
Here, the reader is given a privileged space to witness and feel the same loss felt by the protagonist, which enables him or her to gain a deeper understanding of the realization which accompanied the loss. This realization is described by Viramontes through her protagonist as “the illumination where the sun and earth meet, a final fury reminding us that although endings are inevitable, they are necessary for rebirths (774).”
In the same way, Viramontes’ story would not have been as effective if readers did not feel some attachment to the protagonist. By using the viewpoint of the protagonist, the author is in effect treating the reader like a confidant, someone the girl could talk to about her feelings of inferiority to her sisters or her not being the “favorite granddaughter or anything special” (771) and how this impacted on her relationship with her sisters and her mother.
Similarly, the author uses the internal and external conflicts experienced by the protagonist to show how the girl is ultimately transformed by these experiences. At first, the protagonist is revealed to be a girl whose actions and behaviors are driven by the acute sense of her own deficiencies and a sense of powerlessness over her situation (774).
The girl is particularly bitter about her relationship with her mother, and at one point she expresses her frustration with her cold and distant mother by telling her how her grandma fell off the bed twice, thereby adding to her mother’s anguished state. On the other hand, it is the same conflict with the people who are important to her that becomes the reason for the girl to seek acceptance and comfort with her dying grandmother.
More importantly, it is through the grandmother’s death that the girl finally realizes her yearning for her own mother. The final conflict, represented through the grandmother’s death, forces the protagonist to change her perspective towards her relationship with her mother, allowing her to move on from feelings of hatred and bitterness to longing. In a sense, the girl herself underwent rebirth by freeing herself from “the moths that lay within the soul and slowly eat the spirit up” (775).
Thus, it by making readers assume the role of a confidant, of someone with whom the girl pours her out to, that the author compels the reader to establish a connection to the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings as they are shaped by the numerous conflicts in her life. Consequently, it is by allowing the reader a more personal view of the protagonist’s narrative that the author enables the reader to understand how the protagonist was moved to the resolution of her inner conflicts, particularly her isolation and bitterness towards her mother, with the loss of someone she greatly loved and who could very well have been her own mother.
Viramontes, Helena Maria. “The Moths.” 1995.