The Fly by Katherine Mansfield
Table of Contents
Katherine Mansfield’s short story The Fly (taken from her volume The Dove’s Nest) is a masterpiece in the realm of short stories. This is a very short story, and has the theme of a father’s deep sorrow for the death of his only son on the French front. It also illustrates symbolically the helplessness of man at the hand of fate.
Short Summary of The Fly by Katherine Mansfield
The hero of the story, the boss, is a prosperous, influential man who lives in comfort and dignity, but bears a deep sorrow in the inmost core of his heart for the loss of his only son. He, no doubt, tries to forget it in his busy occupation, social importance and personality, but it remains ever within him, and may haunt and ache him at any time at the slightest provocation.
Such a provocation comes, when his friend and associate Mr. Woodifield, a talkative old fellow, visits him on the scheduled weekly day and, in course of his talk with him, refers to the grave of his son who died in action on the French front some six years back.
Woodifield departs, but leaves behind a pang in the heart of the loving father. The boss remains alone, and is reminded painfully of the grave loss of his only son, his only hope of life, who died some six years before. It was around him that he had so much hope and expectation, and it was for his future that he had ventured and toiled so much.
The sorrow of that past is not dead in the old, bereaved father. The boss remembers fondly and painfully how his son grew into a man and shaped well to guide his business firmly but politely. But the cruel blow of fate has turned into naught all his wishes and expectations and shaken him terribly with the news of the sudden death of his son on the front.
This is the time when the fly episode takes place. A fly somehow falls into the big inkpot of the boss. He takes it out, but rather cruelly tests its stamina and tenacity to survive against the odds of life. He tries this by dropping ink on the fly, as it tries to move and fly. Finally, the fly dies out of exhaustion, and the boss himself, too, feels exhausted and terrified at the realization of human helplessness at the hand of fate.
The fly episode symbolically represents the helplessness of man, like the fly, in the hand of fate. Man tries hard and earnestly, but fails to survive against the odds of life. He goes down, despite his strong struggle to survive against the dreadful blow of Fate which is too cruel to relent, just as the fly succumbs ultimately to the cruel play of the boss. The helpless end of the little fly actually signifies the sad lot of the boss who is equally a victim of a cruel destiny.
Katherine Mansfield’s story is brief and told with ease and earnestness. There is no ring of artificiality anywhere and the authoress treats superbly the inner chamber of the human character. The stream-of-consciousness technique is distinct in the story that remains psychologically intricate but interesting
Analytical Summary of The Fly by Katherine Mansfield
I. Mr. Woodifield Episode :
Mr. Woodifield sat comfortably in the well furnished, luxurious chamber of the boss. He smoked and stared admiringly at everything he beheld there.
Mr. Woodifield looked old and feeble, and was generally kept confined to his home after a stroke. He was allowed to come out and visit his friends only on Tuesday every week. He enjoyed his weekly Tuesday to his heart’s content with somewhat recklessness even.
Mr. Woodifield sat before the boss who was five years older than him, but remained quite strong and active still. The boss pointed out to him proudly the new furnishing in his room to make it more comfortable and luxurious. He, however, did not mention only the photograph of a young soldier, which was on his table.
Mr. Woodifield, however, could not remember the information that he had to give to the boss. The boss brought a bottle of whisky and claimed it to have come from the royal palace. He offered it to Mr. Woodifield and they drank together. Mr. Woodifield felt warmed and remembered the purpose of his visit.
Mr. Woodifield then began to tell the boss that his daughters had recently gone to Belgium to see the grave of his dead son Reggi. He told him further that they had come across the grave of the son of the boss who, too, had died in action
The boss was startled, but Mr. Woodifield continued to relate how the graves were well kept and how his daughters had been cheated in the hotel. The boss was almost static, and could not follow Mr. Woodifield who continued to speak enthusiastically. The old feeble fellow then left the place.
II. The sad reminiscence of the bereaved father :
Mr. Woodifield was gone. But the boss became restless. He instructed his old attendant Macey to allow no one to disturb him for half an hour. He sat alone in his room and was lost in the sad reminiscences of the past about his only son.
The boss seemed to have the vision of his dead son lying in his grave, watched by Mr. Woodifield’s daughters. He remembered that he had died six years before. He tried to weep, but no tears came, although weeping alone would have relieved his grief-stricken heart. After all, time had no healing effect on his heart. He remembered how he had worked to build up his business only for the sake of his son, his only hope of life. The young fellow grew strong and active, like him, and he had the hope that he would discharge his function efficiently after him. But the son joined the war and one day the news of his death came. That was a dreadful blow. All the hopes and aspirations that the boss had so fondly cherished were totally shattered.
The boss remained in a trance. Six years had rolled on since that dreadful message, but it seemed only a recent matter to him. He was upset, tried to get up and looked at his son’s photograph, but was not pleased with that.
III. The fly episode:
At that very time, the boss found a fly fallen into his big inkpot. The little insect was trying hard to save its life. The boss brought it out of the pot and placed it on a piece of blotting paper. The little fly started to cleanse the ink from its body. It was ready to fly soon.
But the boss acted strangely. He put a big drop of ink on the body of the fly. It was quite upset, but started its effort to live shortly after. He admired its courage and stamina, but put once again another drop of ink. The fly once again fumbled. An anxious period passed over till it began to move again. The boss had a feeling of relief, but decided to make the last trial of its stamina. Again, he let a drop fall on it. The fly was well exhausted. It could stir no more. The boss encouraged it, but that was all in vain. The fly was dead.
The boss took the dead fly with his paper-knife and threw it into the waste paper basket. He felt himself quite wretched and helpless. He called Macey and asked him to bring some new blotting-paper. He tried desperately to remember what he had been so long thinking and began to feel thoroughly confounded and exasperated.