The central theme of this short story is death, and how it conquers all. Death is shown through the visit of Woodifield to his old friend, the boss, who have both suffered loss through the death of their sons in the war. However, at the same time, this overt reference to death is not the only way in which this theme is demonstrated. Woodifield shows through the way that his life is dominated by his daughters that he is living a kind of living death, where he is stripped of any decision-making powers himself, not even able to have a whiskey when he wants. In the same way, his struggle to remember that his daughters visited his son's grave shows that the memory Woodifield has of his son is dying as well. This is echoed in the difficulties of the boss to remember what his son looked like, and also the way in which he is demonstrates not only a lack of feeling towards his son and his son's memory, but also all of those around him. This is evinced through his treatment of Macey, who is presented as being more a dog than a servant, and also, ultimately, his treatment towards the fly. The way in which the boss torments and tortures the poor fly until it dies signifies the supremacy of death in this short story:
The last blot fell on the soaked blotting-paper, and the draggled fly lay in it and did not stir. The black legs were stuck to the body; the front legs were not to be seen.
Death rules supreme, whether it is physical death or the death of a memory or something else. Note that the boss experiences a "grinding feeling of wretchedness" when he contemplates the body of the fly, signifying his own sadness and terrible realisation of the supremacy of death. The tragedy is that this is not enough to shock him out of his living death, and to start making the most of the life that he has. It is also not enough for him to start treating those around him in a way that helps them to enjoy life either.