The Fly (Mansfield)

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"The Fly" is a 1922 short story by Katherine Mansfield.

Plot summary[edit]

Mr. Woodifield, an old and rather infirm gentleman, is talking to his friend, referred to only as "the boss". The boss is a well-to-do man who is "still going strong", despite being five years older than Woodifield. The boss enjoys showing off his redecorated office to him, and points out its new furniture and electric heating. There is an aged picture of a young man, whom we learn is the boss's deceased son, sitting above a table, but it is not referred to by the boss.

Woodifield wants to tell the boss something, but is struggling to remember what it is, 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 drops a blob of ink onto it. He admires the fly's courage and drops another dollop of ink. He watches the fly dry itself again, although with less vigor then the first time. By the third drop, the fly has been severely weakened, and dies.

The boss throws the dead fly, along with the blotting paper that was underneath it for his cruel game, into the wastepaper basket. He asks his clerk for fresh blotting paper. The boss suddenly "feels a wretchedness that frightens him and finds himself bereft". He tries to remember what he had been thinking about before noticing the fly, but cannot recall his grieving for his son.

Characters in "The Fly"[edit]

  • Mr. Woodifield, an old and infirm man, who has lost a son in World War I. He is only allowed to leave his house on Tuesdays. He lives with his wife and daughters.
  • The boss, a well-off friend of Woodifield, who also lost his son in World War I. (main character)
  • Macey, the main office clerk.
  • The fly, the symbolic device of the story.
  • Gertrude, one of the daughters of Woodifield.
  • Reggie, the son of Woodifield who died in World War I.

Major themes[edit]

The Fly has had many, varied, critical analyses, with much attention has been paid to the actions of the story's central character, 'the boss'.

The story is usually read as an indictment of the brutal horror of World War I. The boss is said to be representative of the older generation of 1914, that inadvertently sent their sons to slaughter in a cruel war.

The inevitability of death and man's unwillingness to accept this truth are also significant themes.

Some say that the fly itself actually symbolizes the boss, who is fighting with his decisions in life. The boss has also been seen as a symbol of malignant individuals that are base and motivated by an insensitive greed.[1]

Others argue that 'time is a great healer, vanquisher of all the griefs and sorrows of man' due to six years having passed since the death of the son of the boss, and he has now lost his acute emotions and memories.[citation needed]


  1. ^ citation needed?

External links[edit]