The Fly as a Short Story
A short story is nicely characterized by Edgar Allan Poe, one of the finest story writers, as a prose-narrative, requiring from half an hour to one or two hours for its perusal. Hudson finely calls it that which can be read at a single sitting, Brevity is thus the essence of a short story which is an essential requirement in this age of rush and hurry, restlessness and mobility.
Yet, brevity is not the only characteristic of a short story which has certain other features as a narrative of some incidents. It is a simple narrative in a single situation and produces a single impression, for this is the essential element of every work of art. The singleness of the situation and the singleness of the effect produced mark the singular features of a good short story, although it may contain different incidents or moments. What is required is the concentration of the interest, the absolute relevance of details and the singleness of impression.
As a piece of narrative, the short story has a plot which, however, has the essential unity or harmony. The unity of the plot rises from the singleness of the situation in which the exposition, the development and the climax are all synthesized, and brought into an orderly whole.
A short story, because of its limited range and scope, seldom has any detailed characterization. The paucity of characters and the special focus on some specific traits of a character constitute, too, the incidental features of a good short story, of course, characterization is an important feature in a short story, as in any other literary form.
Lastly, the short story, because of its essential brevity, can hardly indulge in a play of rhetoric or diction. Any elaboration in description or detail or any long speech or dialogue hardly suits the limited range of a short story. A simple style, a direct approach and a clean appeal, in fact, make a short story perfect as a specimen of a good literary art.
Katherine Mansfield’s The Fly is characterized as one of 15 finest short stories ever written’. The Fly represents a classical art of story-telling in brevity and suggestiveness, with the character-portraits of a novel. In fact, The Fly is a unique specimen of the psychological short story of modern times, which is based on the hard reality in the life of an individual. It remains, at the same time, appealing in its universality as also in its depiction of individual psychology.
A short story, as asserted already, has a very brief plot. The Fly is very brief, complete in five pages only. Of course, its brevity appears illusive. Though the story is short, the matter is complex and liable to be interpreted differently and symbolically. The story mainly presents the mental state of a big business man who is deeply distressed by the untimely death of his only son, some six years ago. The memory of his dead son is stirred by Mr. Woodifield, one of his close associates, and he is found involved in a state of mental desperation, in a little episode of a fly, and he ultimately causes its cruel death.
The plot of the story is apparently simple and single, although there are actually two episodes-the Woodifield episode and the fly episode. Both the episodes, however, never seem independent of each other, and they are unified through the character of the boss who is the hero of the story. Both these episodes actually are used to represent the psychology of a bereaved, rather wretched, father, deeply mourning within.
As noted already, the plot of the story is organic, smoothly passing from the exposition to the development and then to the climax. Woodifield’s talk that intensifies the grief-stricken heart of the father, serves as the exposition, which is developed, as the bereaved man recalls his dead son and muses on his own reliance on him. The climax comes with the fly episode which follows from the sorrow of the father’s heart at the memory of his dead son. The unity of the plot is wonderfully maintained by the story-teller with a perfect synthesis between the exposition, the development and the climax, although the subject of the story is intricate enough. The entirety of the whole story is well preserved, with the beginning, the middle and the end in a perfectly symmetrical order.
A short story, as known already, has a few characters. This is because of its extremely short span. The present story contains only two prominent personalities- Mr. Woodifield and the boss. None of them is fully sketched, yet their inner aspects are well brought out. The psychology, particularly of the boss, is immensely interesting, and the story, seems to have the character of what is called the stream-of-consciousness novel. Mr. Woodifield stands as a comic foil to him. Of course, the old attendant Macey is another character But he is merely sketchy, and not a full-length figure.
The economy of the mode of story-telling is perceived all through Because of the essential brevity of her story. Katherine Mansfield is found to use extremely concise expression and draw precise images to convey her tale appropriately. The entire reflection of the boss, after hearing from Woodifield of his son’s grave, is deftly brought out in a few paragraphs. His psychology, with its intricacy, is presented impressively, yet precisely and briefly.
Again, the varied aspects of the fly episode, with its dramatic turns, are, too, briefly related. A good short story is an art, and this can be perfectly told about this short story. The story leaves behind the impression of an artistically delineated picture of the inner world of an apparently steady man. It has definitely a tragic note, but this is artistically presented without anything of a melodrama or sentimentalism. The death of the fly is a quite commonplace affair, but this is made quite extra-ordinary and has a serious implication for the boss. Its reaction on him is subtly signified. The tragic note of the story has a universal significance, and this makes the final impression, so deep and penetrative.
In the ultimate analysis, The Fly stands out as a unique specimen in the realm of the short story, satisfying perfectly all the requisites of a good short story, with the intricate suggestiveness of a modern short story
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