Theme in "The Fly"

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

Asked on by modtanoy

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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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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litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

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.

literaturenerd's profile pic

literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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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.

bhawanipur's profile pic

bhawanipur | College Teacher | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted on

I think its desire to live for more. The fly fell on the ink pot and the boss pushed him again and again. The main theme is death is inevitable and man never accept this truth. Then there can be another theme of the story, "the Fly" is finding the strength to go on and to aspect of "never give up". In the story not only does the fly have to find the strength to keep on living after he has the incident with the ink, but also the Boss needs to find a cope with the death of his son, and he needs to find a way to keep on living, after the world just came crashing down around him.




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