Character Sketch of the Boss in The Fly
Katherine Mansfield’s short story ‘The Fly‘ consists of a few characters. Of them the boss is the most important character and consequently draws our greatest attention. It is an undoubted fact that the story becomes interesting particularly because of the inclusion of this character.
From the story we come to know that the boss was an old man. In fact he was five years older than Woodifield before whom the word ‘old’ was added obviously because of his old and frail appearance. But age could not wither the boss. He was still active, still maintaining good health, and still at the helm of his business. He was stout and rosy, and exuded an authoritative air round him. Indeed old Woodifield paled into insignificance before him.
The boss liked everything to be kept in a tiptop condition. The inkpot, the paper-knife, the pen-stand, the blotting-paper, the tumblers, the water bottle, and the daily newspaper were neatly arranged on his desk. He also had a hidden cupboard below the desk in which his drinks remained in a locked condition.
The boss felt proud over his worldly success. The leather-covered chairs, the new red carpet with large white rings, the massive bookcase and the table with legs like twisted treacle, and the electric heating system all pointed to that. He wished his success to be recognized and acclaimed particularly by old Woodifield who could not be compared with him in this respect. His thirst for success was attested by the fact hat he got a feeling of deep, solid satisfaction to be planted there in the midst of it in full view of that frail old figure in the mufller.
Despite his gravity the boss kept up a jovial exterior. He pretended to be sorry when old Woodifield complained that his wife and daughters did not let him touch drinks at home and remarked that in such matters (i.e. male persons) knew a bit more than the ladies. Then he entertained his friend with an old whisky supposed to have come from the cellars at Windsor Castle. The whisky warmed Woodifield and helped him to remember the thing he had forgotten.
The boss was not only a man of means, he was also a man of taste. This was affirmed by the neat and clean atmosphere of his office, the elegant way his office was furnished and done up, by the rare variety of drinks stocked by him, and the snug cubby-hole meant for his grey-haired messenger.
Notwithstanding his success, his authoritative nature, and his elegant tastes, the boss had a weak spot which he kept hidden all the time it was for this that he did not draw Woodifield’s attention to the boy’s photograph kept on the table). It was the sorrow and pain of his heart caused by the sudden death of his son in the war. When Woodifield told him of his daughters’ unexpected discovery in Belgium of the grave of his son lying close by that of their brother Reggie, he touched as it were on a sensitive nerve that gave him a deep and violent pain and laid bare all on a sudden his unhappy and solitary life. That he did not like his private sorrow to be probed by anyone was clear from his decision to shut the door and cry within thereby not letting anybody to enter there for half an hour, from showing no signs except a quiver in his eyelids that he heard Woodifield’s report, and from his painful imagining that the earth had opened and he had seen the boy lying there with Woodifield’s girls staring down at him.
The boss was a loving father. Indeed his love for his son was deep and inestimable. One cause of it might be that the boy was an only son in the family. Ever since his birth he had worked building up his business for him. Life for him had seemed to have no other meaning except that. He had slaved, denied himself, and kept himself active all these years only to see his boy stepping into his shoes and carrying on where he left off. And his expectation had been so near completion. The boy had been learning the rules and procedure for business for a year before the war. Every morning they had started off together, they had come back by the same train. There seemed to be no end to his congratulations as the boy’s father and the boy’s popularity to his staff. The boss had every reason to be satisfied with his boy.
Terrible was the shock that the boss had received six years ago when Macey had handed him the telegram bearing the tragic news of his son’s death in the war. It seemed to have brought the whole place crashing about his head. All his hope was over and done with. After this he had left his office a broken man, with his life in ruins.
For the first few months or years after the boy’s death he had only to say ‘My son!’ and at once he was overcome by such grief that nothing short of a violent fit of weeping could relieve him. Time, he had declared then, could make no difference. He had told everybody then that others perhaps might recover, might forget their loss, but not he. Despite the boss’s proud declaration he could not weep now though he wanted and arranged to so. In fact time brought a change in him. He felt puzzled. Something seemed to be wrong with him. He was not now feeling as he wanted to feel. Actually he was feeling resentful and revengeful. He could not forgive those who nipped his son in the bud. Had he succeeded in weeping he would have got some relief. But no tears came out. His anger and hunger for revenge were, therefore, kept in a pent-up condition that might explode any moment.
The fly episode acquaints us with the metamorphosis (i.e. change of nature) the boss had gone under. At first we liked him for energy, his jovial and amusing talk with his friend Woodifield, and his zest for life. Then we felt pity for him coming to know of his sudden great loss, and our respect for him also increased as we saw him coping with the situation with a fighting spirit and never losing hope or courage. But the fly episode finally turns us face to face with another facet of his nature which we did not know till then. It was his animosity, his revengeful spirit, the evil that had been buried so long. A man of his age and experience ought to have realized within less than a second’s time what would happen to the fly if ink was allowed to fall on it drop after heavy drop. He certainly should have desisted from carrying on his cruel experiment to test the courage and enduring capacity of the fly. As a result his rescuing of it was in vain, and he deserves no praise for it. He saved it as it was only to inflict torture upon it. His encouragement and praise of its courage followed by his deliberate dropping of ink on it as soon as it had succeeded in cleaning its body and was ready to fly away also reveal his sadistic nature and insane urge for revenge. His anger and vengefulness ultimately recoil upon him as we notice him in the end to be positively frightened and overtaken by a grinding feeling of wretchedness.
However adverse our last impression about him might be we cannot deny that the boss had many plus points about him for which we cannot but praise and honour him.