Helena Maria Viramontes’ The Moths

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Helena Maria Viramontes’ “The Moths”

I was initially drawn to Helena Maria Viramontes’ story “The Moths” due to the striking similarities between the narrator’s experience and my own

experience with being thrust into the role of caretaker for a dying loved

one. By tracking a young girl’s transformation through dealings with

subjugation (by her culture), freedom (through her grandmother), death (of

her grandmother) and grief, Viramontes successfully paints an endearing tale of change. “The Moths” emphasizes the narrator’s oppression by her

household’s religion and by the social structures associated with it,

juxtaposed by the freedom for development available within the native

curandera custom taught by her grandmother.

Through vivid yet subtle symbols, the author weaves a complex web with which to showcase the narrator's oppressive upbringing. Two literary

critics whose methods/theories allow us to better comprehend Viramontes

message are Jonathan Culler and Stephen Greenblatt. Culler points out that we read literature differently than we read anything else. According to the intertextual theory of how people read literature, readers make assumptions (based on details) that they would not make in real life.

During these leaps within which we transform facts into values/themes, the

reader creates “supplementary meaning” to the text by unconsciously setting up tension, also called binary opposition. Culler describes this process in his statement “The process of thematic interpretation requires us to move from facts towards values, so we can develop each thematic complex, retaining the opposition between them” (294). Though supplementary meaning created within the text can take many forms, within V...

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...eedom was found and cultural boundaries were not shattered, simply battered, the narrator’s path was much preferable to that of her sisters (those who conformed to cultural boundaries). Through this story we can see how oppression in certain cultures changes individuals differently, creates tension between those who do not wish to be subjugated and those doing the subjugating, and we see the integral opposition between the path of Catholicism and that of curandismo.


Contexts for Criticism. Ed. Donald Keesey. New York: McGraw Hill, 2003.

________________. Jonathan Culler. “Structuralism and Literature.


________________. Stephen Greenblatt. “Culture.” 436-441

The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Ed. Cassel & Bausch. New York:

W.W. Norton and Company, 2000. Helena Maria Viramontes. “The

Moth’s” 870-874
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