Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

20 Jul 2012

(Short Story) The Fly by Katherine Mansfield

(Reaction) Grief by: Antonio Conejos

The Fly is about the boss, his character, and how he faces the loss of his son. To that end, Mr. Woodifield, with whom the story ostensibly begins, is merely a foil to show how (on the surface) worldly and successful the boss is.

Indeed, the boss does not have a name, his identity is encapsulated in his title, he is simply the boss, still going strong, still at the helm.. The boss enjoys the admiration of his subordinates, perhaps even thinks it is his due, As a matter of fact he was proud of his room; he liked to have it admired, especially by old Woodifield.

In every way the boss is superior to Woodifield, the former has health and vigor, the latter has let age wither him. Yet ironically it is Woodifield who manages to lay the boss low, quite unintentionally. Woodifield does so by mentioning the boss's son, lost in the war, The girls were in Belgium last week having a look at poor Reggie's grave, and they happened to come across your boy's.... Old Woodifield paused, but the boss made no reply. Only a quiver in his eyelids showed that he heard.

The boss has never visited his son's grave, For various reasons the boss had not been across. and the mere mention of it unmans him, The door shut, the firm heavy steps recrossed the bright carpet, the fat body plumped down in the spring chair, and leaning forward, the boss covered his face with his hands.

From the confident and assured character at the beginning of Mansfield's story, the boss suddenly becomes frail, brought low by the sorrow of his loss. This sorrow, his inability to have his son with him again, is translated into his tormenting of the fly.

The fly is a fighter, determined to escape the muck of ink which he finds himself trapped in, The horrible danger was over; it had escaped; It was ready for life again. Yet the boss is not ready for life, perhaps never will be again. Thus, even in the midst of admiring the fly's pluck for life, the boss continually places new obstacles to the fly's escape, until finally it dies, exhausted.

This minor act of cruelty, of foisting death on something that so desperately wants to live, is the boss's way of forgetting his own tragedy, of how death haunts his own life, ...he fell to wondering what it was he had been thinking about before. What was it?


Blah story, didn't dislike it but neither plot nor language stood out for me.

As an aside/suggestion, I think an argument could be made without overreading that the boss's son was pushed by his father to enter and excel at the family business.

Such is certainly in keeping with the boss's personality, he likes pushing things to see how far they can achieve, witness his fascination with the hapless fly. Moreover, as a boss he is naturally controlling and commanding; who to more so perhaps than his own son.

Lastly, the boss is adamant that the son take over the business, so much so that it becomes the end all and be all of his life, Life itself had come to have no other meaning. How on earth could he have slaved, denied himself, kept going all those years without the promise for ever before him of the boy's stepping into his shoes and carrying on where he left off?

Crucially, the boss does not remember his son being happy at the office. He only remembers how happy he felt from the praise of his colleagues, And what congratulations he had received as the boy's father! No wonder; he had taken to it marvellously.

Yet the evidence on hand is that the boy was unhappy, a fact denied by his father, He decided to get up and have a look at the boy's photograph. But it wasn't a favourite photograph of his; the expression was unnatural. It was cold, even stern-looking. The boy had never looked like that.

In the end, perhaps Mansfield's The Fly does not refer to the literal fly in the inkpot but to the boss's son. A son who was also pushed and prodded to death by the boss.

I left the above suggestion outside of the main reaction as perhaps the argument may strike some as too threadbare. Still, I think it's an interesting point supported by the text.

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