Through the use of Symbolism and Characterization In the short story “The Moths” by Helena Maria Viramontes, the author uses symbolism and characterization to paint the scene of a girl in a literary fiction that has lost her way and ends up finding herself within her Grandmother through the cycles of life.Through the eyes of an unnamed girl we relive a past that has both a traumatic ending and a new leash on life; however, we do not get there without first being shown the way, enter “The Moths”. The author utilizes opposite ends of the light spectrum to signify beginnings and endings by painting a vivid picture for the reader: “There comes a time when the sun is defiant.Just about the time when moods change, inevitable seasons of a day, transitions from one color to another, that hour or minute or second when the sun is finally defeated, finally sinks into the realization that it cannot with all its power to heal or burn, exist forever, there comes an illumination where the sun and earth meet, a final burst of burning red orange fury reminding us that although endings are inevitable, they are necessary for rebirths, and when the time came, just when I switched on the light in the kitchen to open Abuelita’s soup, it was probably then that she died” (Viramontes 4).She explains to the reader why the sun causes different shades of red and orange throughout the day, the shades themselves represent a life span of different ages, which turn different colors with the coming seasons “of the day”, as opposed to the year, at the end of that day the sun dies and a new moon is born in place of that sun, and when a moon dies the sun is reborn the next day, and so goes the cycle of life.
With this the narrator also states that “endings are inevitable” and so when we look at the Grandmother we already know that she will die because her end is, as the narrator says “inevitable”.The final line in the excerpt is perhaps the single most important piece that ties all of the usage of symbolism together.
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When the narrator turns the light on, a new day has started in the form of a rebirth caused by her Grandmothers death, you see, the moon in the story is not as present as the sun, however, we know that the Grandmother’s name is “Luna”, which translated in the narrators native tongue of Spanish is “moon”, we know her language is Spanish because of the consistent use of Latin terms like; “Placa”, “Menudo”, or even “Heliotrope”, which is a native plant of Peru.Since the moon is the polar opposite of the sun we can say that, in the human element of the story there is Grandma Luna which is currently at the ending of her “moon life” and at the beginning of her rebirth towards a new day as the “sun”, the light bulb, as a symbol of rebirth representing the sun, appears one more time in the story, where in the wake of her Grandmothers death, the narrator is watching the moths “fluttering to light”, carrying her Grandmother’s soul to a place were it can become reborn.I believe that the author’s carefully chosen name of “Luna” for the Grandmother was in fact to show the reader that our death is inevitable but our rebirth in terms of happiness is changeable.Equally important in the story is the use of characterization to show the reader exactly who the protagonist in the story is and what kind of life she is living, we first read of her sisters and how they act in contrast to the protagonist: “I [the narrator] wasn’t even pretty or nice like my older sisters and I just couldn’t do the girl things they could do”, the narrator first bluntly tells the reader that she is different from her sisters and then shows the reader exactly how they are not the same through the use of characterization, “My hands were too big to handle the fineries of crocheting or embroidery and I always pricked my fingers or knotted my colored threads time and time again while my sisters laughed and called me bull hands with their cute waterlike voices. ”.
With all of this information we can tell that the narrator is having difficulty in her own path and does not feel comfortable in her own body, it seems that she is more of a boy then a girl according to the standards set forth by her mother and father. But why is it that the narrator should conform to these standards? At this point we already know that they are in contrast to each other but the reason as to why is deep rooted through yet another mean, conformity.Her father is very devoted to his religious beliefs and wants his family to conform, “He would pound his hands on the table, rocking the sugar dish or spilling a cup of coffee and scream that if I didn’t go to mass every Sunday to save my goddamn sinning soul, then I had no reason to go out of the house, period. Punto final. ”, the narrator has issues with this because she does not want to conform to something she does not herself believe in. The reader knows she feels uncomfortable in a church because she says “I was alone. I know why I had never returned” when she went to the chapel, therefore we are left to the conclusion that the narrator has a free spirit that yearns to become free of the beliefs that have been bestowed upon her.
In other words she is completely opposite of her entire family, or so we see thus far.Grandma Luna is an interesting character, she does not have many lines in the story but the presentation of her character plays a very important role as to who exactly she is, where she came from, where she is going, but even more important, where she is leading the narrator. The Grandmother’s life parallels that of the narrator in the respect that sometime during her life she was also defiant, “The scars on her back which were as thick as the life lines on the palms of her hands made me realize how little I really knew of Abuelita”. This line is informative to the narrator, for the first time she realizes that she is not alone in her personal beliefs.She also wants to become free like her Grandmother is, “I liked her porch because it was shielded by the vines of the chayotes and I could get a good look at the people and car traffic on Evergreen without them knowing”, she likes the porch because the vines are growing in and around her Grandmothers home, she also feels protected by the vines. We also know she cares for her Grandmother, because of the way she talks about her, “Really, I told my Ama it was only fair”. Even before her realization of Grandma Luna’s defiance the narrator felt a strong connection to her, but seeing the scars she has a great sense of why it is that she gets along so well with her Grandmother.
They are both very much alike, and she feels “safe” around her, “I [the narrator] always felt her gray eye on me.It made me feel, in a strange sort of way, safe and guarded and not alone. Like God was supposed to make you feel”, the authors choice of the word “was”, tells us that god does not make her feel safe, instead it is her Grandmother whom she confides in. The narrator herself is defiant and even disrespectful at times, however her defiance is not done without reason; it is done because of her personal beliefs. Her mother and father have strong religious beliefs and try to force those beliefs upon her, when she does not want to conform she fakes going to church and instead, goes over to her Grandmother’s home where she finds comfort in helping her Grandmother with her daily chores.Viramontes chooses to keep the narrator unnamed so that the reader feels like they are taking on the role of the narrator, if she had named her “Alice” or “Lisa” then the audience might not have felt a strong connection with the narrator and the message of rebirth and changing your own mental status to achieve a form of enlightenment, may not have been accomplished. In the end we realize the purpose of the story, it tells about the rebirth any individual can make by changing the way they see the world.
The narrator saw the world brand new for the first time in a different light because of her Grandmother’s death and subsequent rebirth through the moths, carrying her soul to “new light”. It’s not in a literal sense that the narrator is born again; instead it’s more of a mental status change that the narrator has undergone, and because of that she is at peace with herself.