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You know the drill: Our grandmas show us love, then they get super old and die, and then we crawl into the bathtub with their corpses. It's just the circle of life.
What's that? You've never taken a bath with a dead person? Well then you might be a little surprised by how things unfold in Helena Maria Viramontes's 1985 short story "The Moths," a story about a young Latina girl who feels at odds with pretty much everyone in her family except her beloved Abuelita.
The story is part of a short story collection, The Moths and Other Stories, that centers around women's lives. This story in particular focuses on the moment when the main character, whose name we never know, transforms from a rebellious kid into a responsible adult (deathbeds will do that to a person). So if bathing with dead people isn't your thing, worry not—"The Moths" is really about growing up, learning to be okay with yourself, the Chicana experience, and femininity in general.
Viramontes is kind of a big deal on the Latino literature scene, focusing her work on life in East Los Angeles and the Latino experience. The use of Spanish, references to Mexican food, and the story's setting create a Latino world that might be completely familiar or totally foreign, depending on who's reading. So get ready to visit some familiar terrain or to transport to a totally new place—either way, the ride is short and bumpy, so buckle up.
One of the trickiest things about growing up (and there are a lot of tricky things, we know—been there, done that) is considering death. It's something people really don't like to think about, but thinking about mortality is pretty much an inevitable part of coming of age. Everyone does it at some point—you know, because we're all going to die someday, and so are the people we love. Apologies if we're the first people to break this news to you.
This connection between growing up and facing death is at the heart of "The Moths." The narrator grows up in the moment her grandmother dies, catapulted from childhood into adulthood without any say in the matter since she's the person who finds her grandmother's body.
Interestingly, the narrator just sort of knows what to do. She cleans up the room where her grandmother has gone out in a blaze of bodily-fluid-filled glory, and then cleans up her grandmother's body. The final act, where the narrator gets into the tub with the body, is like a fusion between the two characters—the lines between living and dead are blurred as their bodies lie together, washed over by the same water.
We can cover our ears and shout "la-la-la" all we want, but at some point in life we all have to face death. So why not do yourself a solid and spend a little time meditating on mortality as you watch the narrator in "The Moths" confront it on her own? It's definitely easier than thinking about death in your own life.
Curious about Viramontes's life? Click on through for the full scoop.
Like What You Read?
To find more of Viramontes's work, check out this bibliography of her publications.
Hometown Girl Makes Good
Sometimes writers invent their settings, but Viramontes grew up right in the neighborhood that "The Moths" is set in. For more on her roots as a writer, check out this article.
In this interview with Viramontes, she discusses everything from what she read as a child to her family and her decision to become a writer.
The World is Full of Critics
In this gem of a clip, Viramontes calls out her haters and responds to criticism of her style.
Like a Prayer
Writing isn't just a vocation for Viramontes. In this talk, the author explains the spiritual side of her writing.
Can't Get Enough
Here's a treat for you. Sit back and listen as Viramontes reads another one of her works, "Their Dogs Came With Them."
Listen to this review of "Under the Feet of Jesus," another work by Viramontes, to see if you'd like to read it, too.
Here's a picture of Helena Maria Viramontes, author of "The Moths."
The cover of the collection "The Moths" appears in. Is that our narrator?