What is the main theme of "The Fly" by Katherine Mansfield?

The main theme of "The Fly" by Katherine Mansfield is the buried trauma of World War I and the unresolved pain and loss that survivors are dealing with six years after the war ended.

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The buried trauma of World War I is the main theme of "The Fly."

As the story opens, the boss is visited by an old employee, Mr. Woodfield. At first, all goes well. The boss is pleased to be complimented on his comfortable office, of which he is proud. He thinks a bit pityingly that old Woodfield might be "on his last pins" or near to death.

Mr. Woodfield gets to the purpose of his visit, which is that while in Belgium, visiting his own son's grave, he came across the grave of Mr. Woodfield's son. This revelation triggers the boss's buried trauma over his son's death:

It had been a terrible shock to him when old Woodifield sprang that remark upon him about the boy's grave.

After Mr. Woodfield leaves, a flood of memories come back to Mr. Woodfield about the grief and loss of all meaning that he felt when he got the news six years ago that his son had died in the war. It feels as if it happened yesterday, the day that

he had left the office a broken man, with his life in ruins

The boss relieves his deep, buried anger at the war and his society, as well as the pain of the death of his only son, by torturing a fly to death by slowly dripping drops of ink on it. As it struggles to survive, getting up only and feeling it has gotten beyond the danger, it is hit with another drop of ink. The boss is enacting on the fly the slow death he himself feels he is undergoing. This relieves his pain so that the can blot out the memories that just resurfaced of his son's death.

Mansfield shows the buried cost of a traumatic war, with a very high death toll for no good reason. Mansfield's point is that while on the surface life goes on and everyone acts as if they are fine, underneath people are suffering acutely and in unresolved ways.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 2, 2021
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The main theme of "The Fly" is death.

Perhaps the darkest of Katherine Mansfield's works, "The Fly" is an existential study of the effects of senseless death upon others and their loss of will. 

On the boss's desk sits a photograph of his son, a youth taken from his father by World War I. Because the boy was buried in Belgium, the family never experienced the realism of his death. And because the boss has never fully accepted the finality of his son's death, he is quite disturbed when his former employee, Mr. Woodifield, visits and tells his old boss about his daughters' trip to Belgium. While the girls were in the cemetery in which their own brother was buried, they discovered the grave of the boss's son. 

The boss makes no comment on this revelation. Instead, he makes a trite remark on Woodifield's tale of the daughters' purchase of a pot of jam, and then he follows Woodifield out the door.

For a long moment the boss stayed, staring at nothing, while the grey-haired office messenger, watching him, dodged in and out of his cubby-hole like a dog that expects to be taken for a run. Then: 'I'll see nobody for half an hour, Macey,' said the boss. 'Understand! Nobody at all.'

Visibly shaken by the reality of his son's death, the boss sits motionless. He lived for his son to take over his business. Now he senses the existential meaninglessness of life that simply ends in death. As he looks at the photograph, it seems different from all the other times that he has glanced at it. Then, a fly falls into the boss's ink pot, and the boss lifts it out with his pen. The fly is able to clean the ink from itself and test its wings. But before it can take off, the boss puts it back into the ink pot. So the fly must begin again, and again it succeeds. But, as the agent of fate, the boss "decided this should be the last time."

The fly's death may well symbolize the death of will. Mr. Woodifield has certainly been weakened; he suffers after his stroke, and he suffers from a death of the strength and will to remember. The employee Macey has a death of will, also, as he mechanically obeys the orders of the boss. Moreover, the boss has a death of the will to feel after the loss of his son because he treats his employee without concern for the man's sensibilities.

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The fly is a metaphor in this short story. I think the main theme is that grief changes us. It changes our outlook on life, and the events in our lives. When the man's son dies, it has a longstanding effect on him, metaphorically described through his murder of the fly.

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The main theme found in this text is death. This theme is illuminated by the multiple deaths which happen over the course of the text. The main point is that death comes for all and no one can escape.

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