The tone of this piece is the author’s concern with life and death. Her voice is personal, describing the world she observes with wonder and interest. The tone is not introspective, but instead has an external focus, viewing the wider world with a tone that suggests its impersonal yet implacable nature. Although the Woolf attempts to describe with detachment, her tone cannot remain so as she witnesses the life and death of the moth. Whether or not she wants to be, her tone is one of captivation by this example of life and death. Additionally, there is a tone of judgment concerning what Woolf feels is most exciting in life (“Moths that fly by day are not properly to be called moths; they do not excite that pleasant sense of dark autumn nights . . .”) (651).
The content of this short story is a description of nature from Woolf’s point of observation. The content is fairly simple, even though the thoughts and philosophy contrasting life and death are not as simple. Woolf describes the moth, the natural world she can see outside her window, and the actions and death of the moth. The simplicity of the content is a contrast to the complexity of the true subject of the story, the analysis of contrast between life and death.
The force of authority in the poem is death itself. When Woolf writes, “an oncoming doom which could, had it chosen, have submerged an entire city, not merely a city, but masses of human beings; nothing, I knew, had any chance against death,” she is establishing the authority that death has over the entire natural world (653).
Woolf uses a variety of rhetorical devices throughout her short story. For example, as the story opens with the description of the moth, her prose is very poetic. Reading words like, “they do not excite that pleasant sense of dark autumn nights and ivy-blossom” give a very picturesque sense to the prose with the sibilance and visual effect of that prose (651). Woolf uses pathos and irony to assist in her contrast between life and death. For example, as he lives, the moth is pitied for a number of reasons; one is because his life appears to be so limited, another is that he has been born as only a moth. In contrast, during the last moments of his life, the moth is described as successful because he manages to struggle back to his feet. The pathos here that Woolf employs evoke a new sense of pity for the moth even though she never uses that word. The judgment that Woolf uses at the beginning of the poem is also a rhetorical device that contrasts directly with the final words of the story. Although the author attempts to judge what is exciting and good in life at the beginning, at the end it is established that no matter how insignificant or important a life is judged to be, all life must succumb in the end to death.