In Katherine Mansfield's story "The Fly," what does the fly represent?

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parkerlee eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The "boss" cannot get over the grief of losing his son in the war, but one day after the visit of a friend who shares the same fate, he distractly plays with a fly landing on his desk in his office. He teases the fly by letting a drop of ink fall on it, then watches it struggle to get free. He repeats the exercise another time, then another, encouraging it on, but the fly eventually drowns and dies.

The fly represents man in his frailty, who is no equal match against fate, which always wins in the end. He realises, at least on a subconscious level, a certain absurdity and non-reason of existence. It is no one's fault his son died, it could not be helped; and the only thing he can do at present is accept his son's death and get on with his own life.

It is interesting that "the boss" promptly forgets what he was preoccupied with when interrupted. Perhaps this is the first step indeed towards inner healing.

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markcnz | Student

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The fly represents the frailty of life.  If you get knocked down hard enough too many times then you cannot get back up.

To this end the death of the son is like a drop of ink being placed on the man.  Therefore the fly represents the man -- A man who is distraught and forgetful which is caused by a tragedy in life.  Another such tragedy, a drop of ink, will kill the man just like it did the fly.



djx | Student

The fly represents more then just man. It represents the boss and his struggle for control. "the boss" had everything set up for his son to take over, he thought he was in control of everything. It was only an illusion to him. In the end he is destroyed( as the fly) as that represents his life. With out his sence of control he has nothing. His desire to control is what destroys him. In reality he has no control. Woodifield is a foil to the boss as aslo does not have control. katherine masfield uses the foil of Woodifield to help the reader understand the bosses situation. In the end when he forgets it is not that he has overcome his grief, it to show how he is the same as woodifield and that he does not have any control; woodifield has no control over his mind as he could not prevent his mind from havinig a stroke.