Robert Wooster Stallman (essay date 1945)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Mansfield's ‘The Fly,’” in The Explicator, Vol. 3, No. 6, April, 1945, item 49.

[In the following essay, Stallman contends that the theme of Mansfield's “The Fly” is that time overcomes all grief.]

The experiment with the Fly by the Boss, so named because he appears to be the boss of his little world and of the little life of the Fly who has fallen into his inkpot, the boss as well over his employees Woodifield and Macey and over his dead son (all are as flies to him), dramatizes both the plot (the conflict between time and grief) and the theme (time conquers grief). At the first stage of the experiment the Boss is to be equated with the Fly. He...

(The entire section is 560 words.)

Wills D. Jacobs (essay date 1947)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Mansfield's ‘The Fly,’” in The Explicator, Vol. 5, No. 4, February, 1947, item 32.

[In the following essay, Jacobs maintains that the fly is a symbol for Mansfield, who at the time of the story's writing was a woman slowly dying of tuberculosis.]

The interpretation of Katherine Mansfield's “The Fly” in EXP. III, Apr., 1945, 49, is at once ingenious and recherché. That the surface theme of the story is the conquest of time over grief—that in time even a slight distraction can banish the truest emotion from the mind—is certain enough. But in its explanation of the fly itself that previous account violates a wise rule known as Morgan's...

(The entire section is 804 words.)

Thomas Bledsoe (essay date 1947)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Mansfield's ‘The Fly,’” in The Explicator, Vol. 5, No. 7, May, 1947, item 53.

[In the following essay, Bledsoe dismisses the interpretations of the story offered the critics Stallman and Jacobs, and concludes that “The Fly” is really about the selfishness and cruelty of mankind.]

I believe that Katherine Mansfield's “The Fly” can be explained without recourse either to a devious symbolism (EXP., April, 1945, III, 49) or to biographical reference (EXP., Feb., 1947, V, 32). Though the former was provocative and the latter cogent, the writers of both seem to me to have missed the woods for the trees. They agree that this is a story...

(The entire section is 609 words.)

Celeste Turner Wright (essay date 1955)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Genesis of a Short Story,” in Philological Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 1, January, 1955, pp. 91-6.

[In the following essay, Wright calls upon to Mansfield's letters and journals to strengthen her assertion that the fly is a symbol for the author herself while the boss represents her father.]

On January 11, 1918, after a wartime train trip to the South of France for her health, Katherine Mansfield wrote her husband, John Middleton Murry, that she felt “like a fly who has been dropped into the milk-jug and fished out again, but is still too milky and drowned to start cleaning up yet.”1 As early as 1913 her story “Violet”2 had...

(The entire section is 1970 words.)

Thomas J. Assad (essay date 1955)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Mansfield's ‘The Fly,’” in The Explicator, Vol. 14, No. 2, November, 1955, item 10.

[In the following essay, Assad argues that the central meaning of “The Fly” is clearly expressed in the line from the story that reads,“we cling to our last pleasures as the tree clings to its last leaves.”]

Various interpretations enrich our reading of Katherine Mansfield's masterful short story. Robert Wooster Stallman's interpretation of the fly as symbolizing and not symbolizing the Boss is ingenious and engaging (EXP., April, 1945, III, 49); Willis D. Jacobs' biographical interpretation of the fly as Katherine Mansfield struggling and succumbing to...

(The entire section is 819 words.)

Stanley B. Greenfield (essay date 1958)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Mansfield's ‘The Fly,’” in The Explicator, Vol. 17, No. 1, October, 1958, item 2.

[In the following essay, Greenfield observes that the death of the fly represents the end of the boss's grief, the thing that had made him distinct from other men and nations who have moved beyond personal sadness and forgotten the cruelty of World War I.]

The difficulties Miss Mansfield's excellent story “The Fly” have occasioned interpreters stem from their eagerness to make one of two obvious equations: (1) within the story itself, to see the fly symbolizing the boss (Stallman, EXP., April, 1945, III, 49; Berkman, K. M.: A Critical Study, p. 195); (2)...

(The entire section is 839 words.)

Pauline P. Bell (essay date 1960)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Mansfield's ‘The Fly’,” in The Explicator, Vol. 19, No. 3, December, 1960, item 20.

[In the following essay, Bell argues that Mansfield's “The Fly” is a story about the inevitability of death and humans' retreat from that realization.]

It seems to me that there is room for one more explication of Katherine Mansfield's short story “The Fly”—an explication in which the fly is the fly, the boss is the boss, and Woodifield is Woodifield. (For previous discussions in The Explicator, see the note by Stanley B. Greenfield, Oct., 1958, XVII, 2, and references given therein.)

“The Fly” seems to me to be unified by one...

(The entire section is 1102 words.)

Clinton W. Oleson and J. D. Thomas (essay date 1961)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘The Fly’ Rescued” and “The Anatomy of a Fly” in College English, Vol. 22, No. 8, May, 1961, pp. 585-86.

[In the following two-part essay, Oleson takes issue with Thomas's interpretations of the symbolism in “The Fly”; Thomas replies to Oleson's criticism and offers direction for further criticism of the story.]

In “Symbol and Parallelism in ‘The Fly’” (College English, Jan. 1961), J. D. Thomas suggests that the fly in Katherine Mansfield's story represents “a life force—or The Life Force—fighting with instinctive courage for survival, until finally done to death by human perversity” and that the ink with which the fly is...

(The entire section is 1056 words.)

F. W. Bateson and B. Shahevitch (essay date 1962)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Katherine Mansfield's ‘The Fly’: A Critical Exercise,” in Essays in Criticism, Vol. 12, No. 1, January, 1962, pp. 39-53.

[In the following essay, Bateson and Shahevitch discuss how Mansfield makes extraordinary use of literary realism to create a tale that ends in the reader's moral condemnation of the protagonist.]

“The Fly” is probably the shortest good short story in modern English. Its two thousand words therefore permit, indeed encourage, the kind of close analysis that has been so successful in our time with lyric poetry but that is impossibly cumbrous or misleadingly incomplete when applied to the novel or the conte. The object...

(The entire section is 2779 words.)

R. A. Jolly (essay date 1962)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Katherine Mansfield's ‘The Fly,’” in Essays in Criticism, Vol. 12, No. 3, July, 1962, pp. 335-38.

[In the following essay, a response to F. W Bateson's and B. Shahevitch's 1961 essay on “The Fly,” Jolly argues that the story contains many more layers of meaning than those critics had observed, most importantly that the boss's predicament is really our own.]

If the object of the article on “The Fly” was simply to demonstrate that ‘exactly the same critical procedure is in order for realistic fiction as for a poem’, then the exercise was successful. It is disappointing, however, that the critical procedure was not carried either as far or as...

(The entire section is 1624 words.)

R. A. Copland (essay date 1962)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Katherine Mansfield's ‘The Fly,’” in Essays in Criticism, Vol. 12, No. 3, July, 1962, pp. 338-41.

[In the following essay, a response to F. W. Bateson's and B. Shahevitch's 1961 essay on “The Fly,” Copland complains that those critics miss the basic point the story, which he says is “less about a man's personality than about a man's crisis.”]

It was disappointing to discover that Mr. Bateson and Mr. Shahevitch had applied but not really employed their valuable techniques in criticising Katherine Mansfield's short story “The Fly” (Essays in Criticism, January 1962). It seems a pity that the authors' method should reveal so much...

(The entire section is 1050 words.)

E. B. Greenwood (essay date 1962)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Katherine Mansfield's ‘The Fly,’” in Essays in Criticism, Vol. 12, No. 3, July, 1962, pp. 341-47.

[In the following response to F. W. Bateson's and B. Shahevitch's 1961 essay on “The Fly,” Greenwood attacks those critics' conclusions about Mansfield's use of the realistic literary genre and rejects their portrayal of the boss as morally unsympathetic; the point of the story, Greenwood argues, is that the boss is asking a metaphysical question about the meaning of life in an arbitrary and tormented world.]

What is ‘realism’? Surely not, as Bateson and Shahevitch suggest, just a trick whereby descriptive trivia are incorporated in a story...

(The entire section is 2456 words.)

F. W. Bateson (essay date 1962)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Sort of Answer,” in Essays in Criticism, Vol. 12, No. 3, July, 1962, pp. 347-51.

[In the following response to the critics E. B. Greenwood, R. A. Copland, and R. W. Jolly, Bateson reasserts his claim that the realistic devices Mansfield uses to describe the character of the boss make him not only unsympathetic but a symbol of the very “society which destroyed itself, and a million innocent victims with it, between 1914 and 1918.”]

Our three critics have raised so many points—several of them, I agree, eminently sensible ones—that I shall not attempt to answer them all here and now. What we set out to provide, as we made clear in our sub-title, was...

(The entire section is 1664 words.)

John T. Hagopian (essay date 1963)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Capturing Mansfield's ‘Fly,’” in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 9, No. 4, Winter, 1963-1964, pp. 385-90.

[In the following essay, Hagopian rejects biographical interpretations of “The Fly” as limiting the story's universally compelling message of death and loss.]

Late in 1915 when Katherine Mansfield received the news that her brother had been killed fighting in France, she wrote in her journal:

The present and the future mean nothing to me. I am no longer “curious” about people; I do not wish to go anywhere; and the only possible value that anything can have for me is that it should put me in mind of...

(The entire section is 2905 words.)

J. Rea (essay date 1965)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Mansfield's ‘The Fly,’” in The Explicator, Vol. 23, No. 9, May, 1965, item 68.

[In the following essay, Rea concludes that “The Fly” is the story of a selfish man who pushes everyone and everything—except himself—to their breaking point.]

The chief characteristic of the boss in Katherine Mansfield's “The Fly” (see EXP., April, 1945, III, 49; Feb., 1947, v, 32; May, 1947, v, 33; Feb., 1954, XII, 27; Nov., 1955, XIV, 10; Oct., 1958, XVII, 2; and Dec., 1960, XIX, 20) is, I think, his inability to recognize that others have a breaking point. This is shown in his attitude toward the fly, toward Macey, toward Mr. Woodifield, and toward his...

(The entire section is 660 words.)

Ted E. Boyle (essay date 1965)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Death of the Boss: Another Look at Katherine Mansfield's ‘The Fly,’” in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 11, No. 2, Summer, 1965, pp. 183-85.

[In the following essay, Boyle claims that the symbolism in “The Fly” is intended to emphasize the spiritual death of the boss.]

John V. Hagopian's recent article on “The Fly” indeed seems a more reasoned and logical explication than those made by earlier critics.1 Professor Hagopian's assertion, however, that the boss is an almost wholly sympathetic character and that the story concerns the boss's imperfect realization of the inescapable fact of death elicits some argument. It is also...

(The entire section is 1398 words.)

Mary Rohrberger (essay date 1966)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Katherine Mansfield: ‘The Fly,’” in Hawthorne and the Modern Short Story, Mouton and Company, 1966, pp. 68-74.

[In the following excerpt, Rohrberger claims that all the characters in the story are themselves symbolically flies, each acted upon by a cruel controlling force.]

“The Fly” was published in 1923 in The Dove's Nest, Katherine Mansfield's last published volume, Sylvia Berkman, in her critical study of Mansfield, says that the central symbolism in “The Fly” is confused:

Obviously the boss stands for a superior controlling power—God, destiny, or fate—which in capricious and impersonal...

(The entire section is 2232 words.)

Paulette Michel-Michot (essay date 1974)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Katherine Mansfield's ‘The Fly’: An Attempt to Capture the Boss,” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 11, No. 1, Winter, 1974, pp. 85-92.

[In the following essay, Michel-Michot declares that “The Fly” is a story about self-discovery and the resulting terror that forces a man to try to forget the awful truths he has learned about himself.]

No other story of Katherine Mansfield has prompted such a critical controversy.1 Many critics have proposed interesting interpretations; yet the more one reads of the criticism, the more one realises that the answer to the problem the story raises is not in fact found in just one or another sentence,...

(The entire section is 3934 words.)

Atul Chandra Chatterjee (essay date 1980)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “1918-23; The Final Phase,” in The Art of Katherine Mansfield, S. Chand & Company, 1980, pp. 234-321.

[In the following excerpt from his full-length study of Katherine Mansfield, Chatterjee calls “The Fly” a “baffling riddle that lends itself to many conflicting, and, sometimes, fanciful interpretations.”]

This much-explicated1 story is deservedly famous. It was completed on 20th February, 1922 and published in ‘The Nation’ on 18th March in the same year. Exceptionally short in length, it tells by implication much more than what it states explicitly. The result is not only an extraordinary depth and suggestiveness but also a...

(The entire section is 893 words.)

Clare Hanson and Andrew Gurr (essay date 1981)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Stories 1921-22: Sierre and Paris,” Katherine Mansfield, St. Martin's Press, 1981, pp. 95-135.

[In the following excerpt from their full-length study of Katherine Mansfield, Hanson and Gurr suggest that the reason “The Fly” has elicited so much critical attention is that the symbolism of the story is flawed and invites conflicting interpretations.]

“The Fly” was written in February 1922, while Katherine Mansfield was undergoing X-ray treatment in Paris. It was a story which she ‘hated writing’, though it is one which has produced a wealth of critical commentary, most notably in a series of articles in Essays in Criticism in 1962 and...

(The entire section is 1173 words.)

Con Coroneos (essay date 1997)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Flies and Violets in Katherine Mansfield,” in Women's Fiction and the Great War, edited by Suzanne Raitt and Trudi Tate, Clarendon Press, 1997, pp. 197-218.

[In the following essay, Coroneos discusses elements of sadism and ambiguity in “The Fly,” and concludes that this is a war story that encourages the reader to “participate in the spectacle of suffering without the anxiety of guilt.”]

In Mansfield's second war story, “The Fly” … old Woodifield has been visiting the boss, a successful businessman running an unspecified business.1 The boss is the older man but, unlike Woodifield, blooming with health and success. Where mirabelle...

(The entire section is 1892 words.)