The Fly (short story)
Woodifield, an old and rather infirm gentleman, is talking to his friend, "the boss", a well-to-do man five years older than he is and "still going strong". The boss enjoys showing off his redecorated office to Woodifield, with its new furniture and electric heating (with an old picture of a young man, whom we learn is his deceased son). Woodifield wants to tell the boss something, but is struggling to remember what it was, when the boss offers him some fine whisky. After drinking, his memory is refreshed and Woodifield talks about a recent visit that his two daughters made to his son's grave, saying that they had come across the boss's son's grave as well. We now come to know that the boss's son had died in the war six years ago, a loss that affected the boss heavily.
After Woodifield leaves, the boss sits down at his table to inform his clerk that he does not want to be disturbed. He is extremely perturbed at the sudden reference to his dead son, and expects to weep but is surprised to find that he can't. He looks at his son's photo, and thinks it bears little resemblance to his son, as he looks stern in the photo, whereas the boss remembers him to be bright and friendly. The boss then notices a fly struggling to get out of the inkpot on his desk. The boss helps it out of the inkpot and observes how it dries itself. When the fly is dry and safe, the boss has an idea and starts playing with the fly by dropping ink on it. He admires the fly's courage and continues dropping ink on it, watching it dry itself continuously. By this time, the fly is weak and dies. The boss throws the dead fly, along with the blotting paper, into the wastepaper basket, and asks his clerk for fresh blotting paper. He suddenly feels a wretchedness that frightens him and finds himself bereft. He tries to remember what it was he had been thinking about before, but has no recollection of what he was thinking about before the fly.
Characters in "The Fly"
- Mr. Woodifield, an old and infirm man, who has lost a son in World War I and is only allowed to leave his house on Tuesdays. He lives with his wife and daughters.
- The boss, a well-off friend of his, who has also lost a son to World War I. (main character)
- Macey, the office clerk.
- The fly the symbol of the story
- Gertrude, Mr. Woodifield's daughter
- Reggie, Mr. Woodifield's son whom he had lost in World War I
The inevitability of death and man's unwillingness to accept this truth. The story can also be read as an indictment of the brutal horror of World War I. Much attention has been paid to the central character of the boss. Many of the critics think that the fly actually symbolizes the Boss who is fighting with his life. He has been seen as a symbol of malignant forces that are base and motiveless, a representative of the generation that sent its sons to their slaughter in a cruel war. The Other Major Theme: Time is a great healer, vanquisher of all the griefs and sorrows of man; six years have passed since the death of the boss' son, and he has now lost his acute emotions and memories.
- Katherine Mansfield, Selected Stories, Oxford World's Classics, explanatory notes