“The Moths” By Helena Maria Viramontes: Summary, Analysis, and Reflection

April 25, 2023
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“The Moths” By Helena Maria Viramontes: Summary, Analysis, and Reflection essay
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After reading “The Moths” by Helena Maria Viramontes, it left with me with a weird feeling. The symbols, the great details, and the overall feelings the story radiated made me feel some type of way. I am not sure if it was sadness, sympathy, or empathy, or even a mixture of all of them. This was a different story than the previous ones I read. So first things first, “The Moths” tells the story of a misunderstood girl who can find an escape from her harsh problems from home only with her grandmother. For this, I can relate to this and I believe many other people can to but we can get into that later. This story sort of reminds me of the previous story I read, which was “The Mask.” Only in the sense that in this story, the narrator can be herself or be what she wants with her grandmother. And in “The Mask” a person puts on a mask, figuratively speaking, and hides their true selves for the sake of others. The similarity is there and very relatable. The narrator tells a great short story of that family or any one can be an escape from the difficulties of life. This theme is first shown when the main character is called “bull hands” by her sisters, and it shows her discomfort, lack of connection to her sisters, and uncertainty about adolescence. There is always that one person in a family that is considered an outcast. And it also can be in any group setting. Whether it is with a group of friends or at a job site, there is that one person. And I, myself can relate to this. To reflect on “The Moths” by Helena Maria Viramontes, I'll first provide a summary of the short story and then analyze the various themes and symbols used in it.

"The Moths” by Helena Maria Viramontes: plot summary

“The Moths” is a short story by Helena Maria Viramontes that tells the tale of a young girl’s journey towards discovering her identity and reconciling with her dying grandmother. The story is set in Los Angeles, and it is written in a lyrical style that evokes the senses and emotions of the reader.

The protagonist is a young Chicana girl who lives with her mother and sister in a house that has been converted into a boarding home. She is a quiet and introspective girl, who spends most of her time reading books and observing the world around her. However, she is also very curious about her heritage, and she seeks to connect with her grandmother, who lives in a nursing home.

The story begins with the protagonist stealing a box of matches from the kitchen and running away from home to visit her grandmother. She is afraid of her grandmother because she has never really spoken to her before, but she is also drawn to her because she senses that her grandmother is a wise and powerful figure.

When the protagonist arrives at the nursing home, she finds her grandmother lying in bed, surrounded by moths that have been attracted to the light of a lamp. The moths become a metaphor for the protagonist's own journey towards self-discovery, as she learns to embrace her heritage and the wisdom of her grandmother.

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The story ends with the protagonist returning home, feeling empowered by the experience. She has found a connection to her roots, and she has reconciled with her dying grandmother. The moths continue to fly around her, a symbol of the transformative power of love and connection.

When I was younger, I felt like the outcast in my family. My interests were really different from my brothers and cousins. I enjoyed different music, different hobbies, and different style of clothing. I think I was the only one that had long hair. But nonetheless, people could tell I was different. I was and still am an introvert in my family, while most of the people in my age are more extroverted. That is how I can relate to this story on a personal level, I found refuge or escape from criticism or stares by being with people who understood me. And many other people can relate to it in their own way. For example, can the theme of the story be examined in a political perspective? Or maybe in a right wing/conservative political ideology? Or maybe in a left wing/liberal political ideology? Can it relate to critical views of feminist issues? These are top discussions today so I am sure some part can be related to. Religion and working class can also be related to the theme of the story. “The Moths” has different themes for people with different perspectives, it is up to us to decipher them.

Analysis of themes and symbols

To further dwell into the theme of escaping from a uncomfortable zone to a comfortable one like the narrator did in the story, I have to further analyze the story. The narrator shows us how the time her grandmother allowed her to escape from her sisters who “laughed at her” and allowed her to behave comfortably. Furthermore, the narrator describes the time with her grandmother as being like what God was supposed to make you feel like,” and when she went to church, she felt alone, this establishes how not even God or religion can alleviate her pain, but her grandmother always knows how to make her feel welcome and comfortable. Being bullied by family or friends has and can have a lasting effect on an individual. Even if the person does not show any type of feelings, it can affect us inside. And many people go through that today. The constant violence in our society today can be rooted back to the theme. What if that one person who did something terrible, did not have anyone? No escape from harsh realities most likely has an effect on the mind. This is where a political perspective or ideology can come into play. With recent events of mass shootings or related events, politics is involved. What do we see on the headline after the terrible events has happened? We usually see the words, “troubled” “alone”, “unstable” or the person was “bullied” or “abused”. Now, who knows the truth of this? Really only the person who is going through it does. But nonetheless, most political people say the person was troubled rather than insane.

Now back to the analysis of the story, the church and the narrator’s grandmother is used to provide more depth into how important the grandmother is to the narrator. The narrator works to serve her grandmother, and her grandmother’s death brings about rebirth between the narrator and her mother. Additionally, the differences between the care taking style of the narrator’s father and grandma show how comfort can be found in all different part of one’s family. Her father screams at her and dig his nails into her to make his point clear to her, while her grandmother makes her feel safe and guarded. How the narrator reacts to them provide insight into how an authoritative figure who respects their child makes them happier and gets more out of them rather than a person who is hurtful and cruel. Many people who were in any sort of abusive relationships, whether it was in a family setting, friend setting, a relationship setting, or work setting, can relate to this. People do not want to be bullied or abused. That just creates or produces hate and uncomfortability in an individual. We also do not want to stay in that harsh zone. We want to escape from it. And some people don’t or cannot escape from it due to a number of reasons. For example, denial of being abused. Frightened from consequences or outcomes of it. Or maybe they just don’t have the strength to do anything about it anymore since it has been happening for a long time, who knows.

Another theme the story has, and I would like touch upon, is the theme of death and how it affects us as individuals. The narrator uses symbolism to provide more insight into the freedom that comes with death. The first symbol of the newfound freedom of death are the scars on Abuelita’s back. I think they symbolize all the hard moments in her life, and death allows her to escape all of those difficulties and find peace. Another symbol used to represent the liberty that comes with death is Abuelita’s hair. Her hair is described as grey and wiry when she is being treated by the narrator for her illness, but when she finally dies, her hair spreads out like eagle’s wings. I think this sudden change in her hair shows how Abuelita goes from being trapped in her human body to having her soul freed through death. One other symbol for this is the moths that come from Abuelita’s soul I think they symbolize the freedom of her ideas, memories, and dreams into the world through death. All of these symbols together show how Abuelita’s death free her from pain, suffering, and old age. Together they construct how death is not always a bad thing and can have a positive effect on the loved ones of the person who dies, and the growth of the narrator and her mother’s relationship over Abuelita’s death proves this. It is sad to say but I have seen it happen. Death brings people together. I can relate to this because in my family, some of us do not talk to some people. I have not seen some of my family in years. But whenever a person passes away, we end up communicating again but in a month or so, we just stop communicating. And the cycle repeats. Why does that happen? I’m not sure but it is an odd and sad thing to think about. I really don’t understand that concept to this day.


Overall, “The Moths” is a powerful story that explores the themes of identity, heritage, and the transformative power of love. Viramontes’ writing is lyrical and evocative, painting a vivid picture of the world around the protagonist and her journey towards self-discovery.

The different themes and symbols used in this story are real and relatable to anyone. The complex issues in finding escape or relief in family and freedom of death is a real thing we see in our lives. The story did a great job in making me feel all types of feelings. As I said previously, the symbols, the great details, and the overall feelings the story radiated made me feel some type of way. I am not sure if it was sadness, sympathy, or empathy, or even a mixture of all of them. Now I am pretty sure it was a mixture of all those feelings.


  1. Viramontes, H. M. (1985). The Moths. In The Moths and Other Stories (pp. 3-11). Arte Publico Press.
  2. Fitts, A. (2014). The liberation of la Llorona: Reclaiming the supernatural through Chicana feminist narratives. Journal of the Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism, 20(2), 406-423.
  3. González, D. R. (2015). Pedagogies of decolonization in contemporary Chicana literature. Journal of American Ethnic History, 35(1), 52-70.
  4. Sanchez, M. A. (1999). An introduction to Chicano literature. Cambridge University Press.
  5. Gómez-Vega, I. (1998). Recasting the Mother in Chicana Literature: From Object of Sacrifice to Subject of Empowerment. MELUS, 23(1), 77-94.
This essay is graded:
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Expert Review
The essay provides a comprehensive analysis of the short story ""The Moths"" by Helena Maria Viramontes. The writer effectively summarizes the plot and delves into the various themes and symbols present in the story. They also provide personal connections and reflections, which adds depth to the analysis. The essay demonstrates a good understanding of the story and its themes, particularly the theme of finding escape and comfort in the face of adversity. The writer effectively connects this theme to their own personal experiences and broader societal issues, such as bullying and abuse. The analysis of the symbols used in the story, such as the moths and the grandmother's hair, is insightful and well-supported. The writer effectively highlights how these symbols contribute to the overall theme of freedom and transformation. The essay is well-structured and flows smoothly from one point to another. The writer provides relevant examples and references to support their analysis. The use of quotes from the story and external sources adds credibility to the essay. Overall, the essay exhibits a good amount of perplexity and burstiness, resembling human writing. The writer demonstrates a strong understanding of the story and effectively analyzes its themes and symbols. The personal connections and reflections add depth to the analysis.
minus plus
What can be improved
While the essay provides a thorough analysis of the story, it could benefit from more careful proofreading and editing. There are several instances of grammatical errors and awkward sentence structures that could be corrected to improve the overall clarity and readability of the essay. Additionally, the essay could have delved deeper into the political perspectives and feminist issues that the writer briefly mentions. Expanding on these points would have added more depth to the analysis and provided a more comprehensive understanding of the story's themes. Overall, the essay is strong and well-written, but some improvements in grammar and further exploration of certain points would enhance its quality even further.
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“The Moths” By Helena Maria Viramontes: Summary, Analysis, and Reflection. (2023, April 25). WritingBros. Retrieved June 18, 2024, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/themes-and-symbols-used-in-the-moths-by-helena-maria-viramontes/
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“The Moths” By Helena Maria Viramontes: Summary, Analysis, and Reflection [Internet]. WritingBros. 2023 Apr 25 [cited 2024 Jun 18]. Available from: https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/themes-and-symbols-used-in-the-moths-by-helena-maria-viramontes/
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“The Moths” By Helena Maria Viramontes: Summary, Analysis, and Reflection essay

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