An Essay

I struggle with Annie Dillard’s “The Death of a Moth.” She starts with where she lives, her cat, and then a solo camping trip. The camping trip is where more moths die, but it’s hard to tell which one of the dead insects is “the” death that Dillard is referring to in her title. A few deaths are mentioned to have occurred in her home.
Anyway, I don’t think that’s the point. Eventually she arrives at her classroom. She asks her students, skeptically (I think), if they will sacrifice to become writers. As if asking, “Who here could write an essay about moths?” They shrug.
Maybe that’s not it either. The most powerful moment comes in parenthesis. “(Is this what we live for? I thought; is this the only final beauty: the color of any skin in any light, and living, human eyes?)” I assume this is a message. The essay might not be about moths or death, but what Dillard lives for. It pushes her students, which possibly is all of us who read her work, to prioritize everything occurring around us. Dillard uses moths, intricately observing and describing them as an example of how to live and write.
I think this, because why else would she make a point of including her grilling the class as she does. She tells them plainly, the only way to be a writer is to live it. Live, and then write your life. That’s what Dillard seems to be saying. Not an auto-biography, but moments. Even fictitious moments inspired by real ones.
She lives to teach, entertain her friends, and watch as candle light dances and moves over their faces. “The essay place ordinary life at the center of its investigations”- this is a beautiful example of how to do so. The piece is an invitation to attack subjects and moments with intensity. I have to read Dillard’s essay in this way in order to arrive at any kind of idea. Read and reread until I finally have a thought. I don’t think it matters that her cat’s tail catches on fire. I don’t really care. But it’s a moment.
I remember finding the skeleton of my pet frog that had jumped out of the aquarium when I was a kid. I think I told my parents and they laughed. The bones where dark brown and almost fused together, solid. Then again, I always preferred our dogs.

One thought on “An Essay

  1. I see a possible essay in the works–the death of a frog. Remember to include an overview of the full reading from the week, then focus in on one or two of the texts. I wonder how you compared Woolf’s version of the essay to Dillard, or even White or Montaigne.

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