Helena Maria Viramontes’ “The Moths”
I was initially drawn to Helena Maria Viramontes’ story “The Moths” due to the striking similarities between the narrator’s experience and my own experience with being thrust into the role of caretaker for a dying loved one. By tracking a young girl’s transformation through dealings with subjugation (by her culture), freedom (through her grandmother), death (of her grandmother) and grief, Viramontes successfully paints an endearing tale of change. “The Moths” emphasizes the narrator’s oppression by her household’s religion and by the social structures associated with it, juxtaposed by the freedom for development available within the native curandera custom taught by her grandmother.
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Where Culler’s ideas focus around binary opposition, Greenblatt’s theories focus on the idea of culture. In this theory, culture is defined as being a series of constraints and freedoms (a.k.a. mobility). These constraints and freedoms enforce certain notions about what is acceptable or unacceptable in relation to behavior, values, beliefs, etc. In this manner, culture sets boundaries for its inhabitants and molds our ideas. Greenblatt describes cultural boundary reinforcement as occurring around us on a daily basis. In the form of anything from a national prize or imprisonment to a “respectful nod” or a condescending/sarcastic comment, we all experience cultural boundary reinforcement, often without recognizing it (437). Literature and art are means by which cultural ideas are spread/enforced, by bolstering acceptable activities and emphasizing consequences for those who do not conform. Conversely, literature and art can also act a means by which an artist can fight to change cultural boundaries. This is concisely described in Greenblatt’s assertion “The ability of artists to assemble and shape the forces of their culture in novel ways so that elements powerfully interact provides for