In the short story "The Fly" by Katherine Mansfield, why was the boss unnamed?
The Fly was written in 1922, shortly after World War One. In the story, the boss is unnamed, yet we are apprised of his character through his interactions with Mr. Woodifield. We know that he is quite proud of the way his office has been recently refurbished. We also know that he sympathizes with the old man's hen-pecked existence. The boss appears to be a kind man; he happily shares a glass of whiskey with Mr. Woodifield and indulges him in conversation.
However, when the subject of his son's grave comes up, the boss is visibly affected. He stiffens at the mention of Reggie's grave, which is near that of his own son's in Belgium. After Mr. Woodifield leaves, the boss sequesters himself in his office. We are then given a clear indication of why Mr Woodifield's words had shaken the boss so much: he had never fully recovered from the grief of losing his only son.
As a proud father, all his hopes and dreams had centered on his only son carrying on his business; to this end, the boss had worked and sacrificed unceasingly. His son had been his pride and joy, and his premature demise had grieved him beyond endurance. The experience of the boss mirrors that of so many fathers and mothers who had to grieve the loss of sons during World War One. This is one conceivable reason the boss is never named. He represents the millions of parents whose own sons were senselessly cut down in the prime of their lives, on the battlefields of Europe.
Before the war, these sons, like the boss' own son, had been preparing to go to college, to start their own businesses, to learn a trade, or to inherit a business. They were supposed to live normal and productive lives. The war changed everything; millions of young men died on the fields of battle, and the hopes of their families died with them.
World War One Casualty and Death Table.
Lost forever, the sons of World War One quickly became part of an amorphous throng of fallen soldiers, mourned by legions of parents. Mansfield's unnamed protagonist is thus a composite representation of an army of bereaved parents.