Study Guide

The Moths Appearances

By Helena Maria Viramontes

Appearances

I wasn't even pretty or nice like my older sisters and I just couldn't do the girl things they could do. (2)

The narrator has different abilities and interests than her sisters, which she attributes to the fact that she looks differently. The other girls are "pretty," which by the narrator's logic leads to them being "nice" and doing "girl things." Thing is, we see her sisters act pretty nastily—which is neither "pretty" nor "nice" in our book.

My hands were too big to handle the fineries of crocheting or embroidery and I always pricked my fingers or knotted my colored threads time and time again while my sisters laughed and called me bull hands with their cute waterlike voices. (2)

Okay, that's just mean. The narrator's sisters are supposedly "pretty" and "nice" (see the quote before this) but they don't seem nice at all—instead of helping the narrator, they call her "bull hands." Again the character is boiled down to her appearance as her trouble with sewing is blamed on her bodily appearance.

So I began keeping a piece of jagged brick in my sock to bash my sisters or anyone who called me bull hands. (2)

Bet you never saw a bull carrying a brick in a sock. The sisters' insults are obviously very hurtful to the narrator—so much so, that she reacts with extreme violence. Beauty may only be skin deep, but being told you're not beautiful can hurt to the core.

My hands began to fan out, grow like a liar's nose until they hung by my side like low weights. (3)

The narrator is called "bull hands" because she is clumsy with her needlework. When her sisters make fun of her, though, it only seems to exacerbate the problem—her hands grow even more, like Pinocchio's nose. The idea that her bad behavior could cause a change in her body (like lying and the growing nose) is kind of silly, but she seems to believe it.

Abuelita made a balm out of dried moth wings and Vicks and rubbed my hands, shaped them back to size and it was the strangest feeling. (3)

The narrator's grandmother seems to have some magical powers hidden up her sleeve, and she's able to reshape the narrator's hands, which grew after her sisters' insults (see the previous quote). Now, because of love, the narrator's appearance returns to normal. The effects of her family members' love or hate are evident in her appearance… or her sense of her appearance, anyway.

Looking into her gray eye, then into her brown one, the doctor said it was just a matter of days. (6)

Just as the narrator's bull hands are evidence of her clumsiness and her sisters' meanness, the grandmother's body also holds the keys to her existence. The doctor looks into her eyes and just seems to know that she's dying. This is another instance of appearances being especially meaningful in this story—and we have more to say about Abuelita's eyes over in the "Symbols" section.

Her gray wiry hair hung over the mattress. Since I could remember, she'd kept her long hair in braids. (6)

The grandmother's hair is not done up into braids; instead it's "wiry" and hanging. The fact that the grandmother is letting herself go this way lets us know that she isn't feeling so hot. Her appearance used to be important to her, since she was always kempt, so this is more than just a bad hair day; it indicates that death is on the way.

So I would wash my feet and stuff them into my black Easter shoes that shone with Vaseline, grab a missal and veil, and wave good-bye to Amá. (8)

When the narrator obeys her father's orders to get to church, she has to force her body into church-going mode. Her appearance changes with her activities; she has to "stuff" her feet into her shoes. She's always too big (remember those bull hands comments?) and her family's expectations for her make her struggle to fit in.

I liked her porch because it was shielded by the vines of the chayotes and I could get a good look at the people and car traffic on Evergreen without them knowing. (9)

Appearance is important in this short story, but so is disappearance. The narrator is always under scrutiny, taking near constant criticism for her appearance, so it's nice for her to just hide out on her grandma's porch, seeing without being seen. It's a way to escape the world's judgment for a while.

I returned to towel the creases of her stretch-marked stomach, her sporadic vaginal hairs, and her sagging thighs. (14)

Abuelita's appearance reveals a really important characteristic about her—namely, her womanhood. She's a mother (stretch-marked stomach, a result of pregnancy), and an old woman (thinning pubes). Her body tells the story of her life.

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