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

In Mansfield's story, the fly is a symbol for the boss's grief. At first it was overwhelming, but he persevered through it. Eventually, though, his mourning was used up; the boss had nothing left to give and so he killed the fly.

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In the short story "The Fly" by Katherine Mansfield, an old man named Woodifield is visiting a friend referred to only as the boss, who is five years older. The boss appears strong, self-reliant, and prosperous, while Woodifield is physically weak and dominated by his family. They share a tumbler of whiskey and then Woodifield remembers something he had wanted to tell the boss: on a recent trip to Belgium to visit Woodifield's son's grave, his family had also come across the grave of the boss's son. Both young men had died during World War I and were interred in a vast graveyard full of flowers and broad paths.

After Woodifield leaves, the boss informs his assistant that he doesn't want to be disturbed for half an hour. He then sits at his desk, presumably to mourn for his son. However, no tears come. The boss observes a fly struggling in an inkpot, helps it out, sets it on a blotter, and watches it clean itself off. Instead of leaving it alone, though, the boss drops more ink on the fly, then again and again— three times in all until the fly dies.

Before torturing the fly, the boss recalls how important and dear his son had been to him. He had been grooming his son to take over the business. The grief he experienced after his son's death had shattered the boss. For years afterward whenever he thought of his son or said the phrase "my son," he would be overcome by a fit of violent weeping. Now, though, the weeping will not come.

The boss is reflecting upon his reactions, and the fly and its struggles are visual representations of his thoughts. The fly represents the boss, or more specifically the boss's emotional life, and the ink represents his grief. When at first he heard of his son's death, he was overwhelmed. It was as if he was drowning in grief, just as the fly was drowning in the inkpot. He told everyone that he could never recover. Whenever he was reminded of his son, it was like a fresh drop of ink upon the fly's back. The grief was terrible each time, but he recovered and persevered. However, the grief was taking a long-term toll. By the time Woodifield reminds the boss of his son, he thinks that he ought to grieve, but he cannot. The long years of sorrow and grief have killed him emotionally, just as the fly has been killed by the drops of ink upon its back. In the end, the boss cannot even remember why he had felt so wretched just a few moments ago.

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The symbol of the fly is open to numerous interpretations. Some commentators have seen it as representing the brutality and cruelty of war. And there's no doubt about about it: the fly's death is most certainly cruel. The boss doesn't just kill the creature; he tortures it to death. This is his unusual way of trying to...

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take his mind off the terrible fate that his son met on the front line in Belgium.

In killing the fly like this, the boss is inadvertently placing himself in the same position as the Germans who killed his son. Moreover, the fly's helpless struggle to free itself from the blot of ink parallels that of so many soldiers in their final moments on earth, including possibly the boss's own son.

It's rather telling, to say the least, that once he's killed the fly, the boss feels no satisfaction, but rather a grinding sense of wretchedness. This could reasonably be interpreted as a reference to the guilt experienced by many of those of the boss's generation over sending so many young men to their deaths in World War One, which at that time was the most devastating conflict in human history.

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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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Explain what the fly signifies in the story 'The Fly' by Katherine Mansfield.

The fly that the boss so imperiously slaughters at the end of this short story cements the central theme of the story that is death and its inevitability. Critics note that in this story Mansfield presents the reader with a number of deaths, that are either literal or metaphorical. Mr. Woodifield is shown to experience a kind of death as he lets his womenfolk dominate him and he is only able to lead an unsatisfactory life. The boss himself recognises that he has experienced a kind of death at the death of his son six years ago. Although the boss is still alive, and very different from Mr. Woodifield, he is shown as experiencing a kind of death-in-life, as shown through his struggle to recognise his son's picture and in the death of his emotions.

The death of the fly that the boss perpetrates is therefore a symbol of how death conquers all. As the boss, god-like, waits for the fly to survive one ink drop before adding another until finally it is vanquished and dies, the tragedy of human life is acted out for the reader. Note how this struggle is acted out:

The little beggar seemed absolutely cowed, stunned, and afriad to move because of what would happen next. But then, as if painfully, it dragged itself forward. The front legs waved, caught hold, and, more slowly this time, the task began from the beginning.

Just as the fly has to struggle to escape the ink but eventually succumbs, so humans have to struggle to fight the vicissitudes of life before they eventually succumb. Death governs all and is triumphant. The image of the fly makes this one of Mansfield's most pessimistic stories in its presentation of the human condition.

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What does the fly represent in "The Fly" by Katherine Mansfield?

"The Fly" is a short story written by Katherine Mansfield about a man grieving for his son who died in combat during World War I. As a business owner, the old man took great pride in the fact that his son, a promising young man, would one day follow in his footsteps and take over the company. With his son's untimely death, the old man feels a lack of purpose and great sorrow for what he has lost.

After his son is brought up in a conversation, the man asks for some privacy and begins to think about his son's death. However, he becomes confused when he cannot feel the grief as intensely as he used to.

At this moment, the man notices a fly in his inkpot that is trying to escape. He saves the fly, which then begins to clean its wings and legs from the ink. Admiring the fly's efforts to survive and recover from his bad luck, the old man dips his pen in the ink and covers the fly with some more ink. Again, the fly cleans itself and recovers.

The man does this multiple times, testing the perseverance and courage of the fly with an air of cruelty. However, with its fourth attempt, the fly fails to survive and lies dead on the desk. Afterward, the man nonchalantly discards its body in a waste paper basket and continues with his day.

On the one hand, the fly in this story represents the suffering of soldiers during World War I. The fly's struggle to get out of the inkpot is emphasized and gives the creature a human quality. This can be connected to the deaths of the old man's son, as well as Woodfield's son. The following passage encourages us to feel sympathy towards the fly, who is personified:

At that moment the boss noticed that a fly had fallen into his broad inkpot, and was trying feebly but desperately to clamber out again. Help! Help! said those struggling legs. But the sides of the inkpot were wet and slippery; it fell back again and began to swim.

The man's indifferent reaction to the death of the fly might be a comment about the general desensitization to death after an event like World War I. During this time, many people had lost a loved one in the war, which normalized the tragic deaths of young men.

Additionally, the death of the fly (caused by the cruelty of the old man) might symbolize the incompetence of war leaders during World War I and the avoidable deaths that resulted from this. The man has complete control over the life of the fly, but his incompetence and cruel attitude led to its needless death. This can be compared to the war leaders of World War I, who were accused of treating the men like "cannon fodder."

The fly had survived its first encounter with the ink, but after being repeatedly submerged, it couldn't survive, which can be compared to the fact that during World War I, men who survived in battle were forced to return and fight again. As these men fought in so many battles, their chances of death increased dramatically.

Interestingly, despite his indifference towards the fly's death, the man does have a feeling of disturbance, which is described as a "grinding feeling of wretchedness." This indicates that, even on a subconscious level, the man understood the connection between the fly and his son, or at least the cruelty in his own actions.

Finally, we can also interpret the fly and his struggle as representing the experience of grief. The fly is submerged repeatedly in the ink and is forced to recover each time, which reflects the experience of the old man himself, who must repeatedly face the tragic loss of his son. Like the fly, the boss is seemingly drowning in his feelings of loss and grief, feeling that he will never truly recover from his loss.

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