Study Guide

The Moths Violence

By Helena Maria Viramontes

Violence

[…] [S]he had seen me through several whippings, an arm broken by a dare jump off Tío Enrique's toolshed, puberty, and my first lie. (1)

The narrator rattles off a list of difficulties she's experienced in her fourteen years, and several of them are "whippings," we assume applied by her father. Because she includes the pain of those beatings in a list along with her broken arm and puberty, it seems as though they're just part of growing up.

So I began keeping a piece of jagged brick in my sock to bash my sisters or anyone who called me bull hands. Once, while we all sat in the bedroom, I hit Teresa on the forehead, right above her eyebrow and she ran to Amá with her mouth open, her hand over her eye while blood seeped between her fingers. I was used to the whippings by then. (2)

The narrator could be a character from Orange is the New Black with these prison-revenge tactics. But nope, she's not behind bars—she's in her childhood home. The fact that these girls treat each other so monstrously is kind of shocking; violence just permeates this family.

In the early afternoon Amá would push her hair back, hand me my sweater and shoes, and tell me to go to Mama Luna's. This was to avoid another fight and another whipping, I knew. (4)

The narrator's mother is at a loss when it comes to dealing with her rebellious daughter. Trouble is, they're locked in a vicious circle: The narrator hits her sisters, which gets her a whipping from her dad, which makes her even more rebellious. Amá tries to break the cycle by removing the narrator, but we're not sure she's actually the problematic element here.

I would deliver one last direct shot on Marisela's arm and jump out of our house, the slam of the screen door burying her cries of anger, and I'd gladly go help Abuelita plant her wild lilies or jasmine or heliotrope or cilantro or hierbabuena in red Hills Brothers coffee cans. (4)

What a contrast. The narrator leaves behind a super-violent household (direct shots, slamming doors, cries of anger) and goes to a healthy, growing garden at her grandmother's house. While at her own house everything is destructive, Abuelita gives her something productive to do.

This was one of Apá's biggest complaints. He would pound his hands on the table, rocking the sugar dish or spilling a cup of coffee and scream that if I didn't go to mass every Sunday to save my goddamn sinning soul, then I had no reason to go out of the house, period. Punto final. He would grab my arm and dig his nails into me to make sure I understood the importance of catechism. Did he make himself clear? (8)

Wow. This guy needs to work on his marketing techniques. If he wants his daughter to obey him and go to church, maybe he shouldn't directly associate church with pounding a table, screaming, and digging his nails into his daughter's arm (ouch). Talk about counterproductive.

[M]y older sisters would pull me aside and tell me if I didn't get to mass right this minute, they were all going to kick the holy s*** out of me. (8)

Okay, we have to admit this is kind of funny. The narrator is in trouble because she won't go to church—so she's rejecting holiness in a way—but her sister's respond by threatening to beat "the holy s***" out of her. In the end they're just reinforcing their father's violent threats, hoping that if she falls in line, they'll spare her a real beating from their dad.

Abuelita fell off the bed twice yesterday, I said, knowing that I shouldn't have said it and wondering why I wanted to say it because it only made Amá cry harder. (12)

We threw in this quote to remind you that, bricks aside, language can be violent as well. The narrator hurts her mother intentionally here by simply opening her mouth. It won't leave a physical scar, but in some ways, this wound might take longer to heal.

I guess I became angry and just so tired of the quarrels and beatings and unanswered prayers and my hands just there hanging helplessly by my side. (12)

Here the narrator explains why she lashes out at her mom with her angry, hurtful words. In short, she's tired of getting beaten up at home, the place she's supposed to feel safest. And those hands, which are made fun of by her sisters, and are used to beat them in retaliation, are actually just helpless. It's the helplessness that makes her so angry—she's too young to make changes to her life.

The scars on her back which were as thin as the life lines on the palms of her hands made me realize how little I really knew of Abuelita. (14)

Yikes. We don't know what happened to Abuelita to leave her with thin scars all over her back, but we can only imagine it wasn't pretty. The first thing that pops into our heads is a whipping. It seems probable that Abuelita grew up in a violent family just like the one the narrator is in, though they never talk about it.

The bathroom was filled with moths, and for the first time in a long time I cried, rocking us, crying for her, for me, for Amá, the sobs emerging from the depths of anguish, the misery of feeling half born, sobbing until finally the sobs rippled into circles and circles of sadness and relief. (16)

So this isn't a violent moment—instead it is a moment in which the narrator releases some of the pain she's been holding onto due to the violence in her life. She's been on the receiving end of lots of violence from her dad, and she's also been a violent person herself. She's trapped in her family because of her age ("the misery of feeling half born"), but here she finally gets some release. Think of this as a glimpse of the other side of violence.

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