The Moths And Other Stories
There are many parts about Helena Maria Viramontes’ story “The Moths” that I could relate to. I was very drawn to the ways in how similar my experiences were to those of the narrator. I along with my mother had to care after my grandmother whose health was slowly depleting. This young girl transforms because of her experiences and hardships through subjugation by her own culture, the struggle for freedom, and the grief that came from her grandmothers’ death. I believe Viramontes depicts a great story about change in which the “Moth” symbolizes the oppression that the narrator experiences in her household’s religion and also because of the social structures related with it, contrasted by the willingness for freedom of development within the native “curandera” custom that was instilled in her by her grandmother.
One of the first things I began to notice is that the characters within depict a binary opposition. It is a tension between Curandismo and Catholicism. In the story the religious practices between that of Catholicism and “curandera” are binary opposites that in my opinion are depicted through symbolism. The conflict can be seen as the narrator being reprimanded for not going to church, and keeping refuge inside grandmothers house where she could pretend to have gone to mass. Although evading mass would necessarily be symbolic of binary opposition I believe that there are several symbols that are deemed as holy through tradition and holds an intrinsic meaning to those who still hold those beliefs.
Throughout the story there are symbolic meanings like Abuelitas’ one gray eye, the eye that made you feel “ Like God was supposed to make you feel”, compared to the blank eyes of the churches statue creates a tension between the catholic church and grandmother. “The Moth’s” also relates to gender based power structures and the role men play in relation to those structures. The male role is a very important one in this story with every reference to men, throughout the entire story, is given a negative connotation. Men are seen in being in positions of power where as woman are not.
The only exception to that is grandmothers’ role as a “curandera” creates more opposition between the roles of men and women in society. The narrator is punished by her father for not attending mass so she seeks refuge in a place where woman hold a position of power, “curandera”. While her father squeezes his nails into her arm, grandmother tenderly medicates her swollen hands again symbolizing the opposition. We can assume through the father’s behavior that he stays in control by using methods of abuse while grandmother uses methods of nurturing.
This idea can be seen clearly in the differences between the powerful “curandera” compared to the weak and frail, catholic mother. Grandmother is described as having the ability to extract scarlet fever out of someone using potatoes slices compared to the descriptions of the mother that are those of her crying from being abused by her husband.
Not only is there a difference in their physical endurance but also in their willingness to escape from their cultural boundaries, for example their battle against the Greenbelt states. I believe the narrators’ role is symbolic to the options that are available for women within that culture and the behaviors that are encouraged and criticized. I believe the conclusion is stating that a Latina can only hope for a partial escape from the men’s tyrannical rule. Being a caretaker, forced the narrator to grow up faster than others so she could develop a sense of humanity, and through her grief realize that caring for humanity is an indispensable virtue, even when surrounded by oppression.