Style and Technique

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In “The Fly,” Mansfield typically uses a minimal amount of action in order to reveal human emotions. The real drama of the story involves a dialogue between two men, a direction to a messenger, a soliloquy, the torture and death of a fly, and another direction to the messenger. Throughout the story, the point of view is that of the boss, as he moves from self-satisfaction to inability to feel to preoccupied torture to misery. Because the boss, in contrast to Mansfield’s sensitive protagonists, is essentially self-centered, however, the revelation in the story must come to the observant reader, rather than to the protagonist himself.

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It is the reader, not the protagonist, who will notice the various parallels that are carefully built into the design of the story. The boss does not notice that he and Woodifield are alike in managing to forget the deaths of their sons. Nor does he realize that Woodifield’s stroke and his own life’s end, when his son died, have both been followed by a rebirth, by the capacity for pleasure, whether in a day out or in showing off the new furniture.

It is also the reader, not the protagonist, who sees that the fly itself has symbolic significance. Much as the boss may pity himself, in that he has lost the son whom he was shaping to follow him, he does not admit any feelings of identity with anyone or anything—not with Macey, not with Woodifield, certainly not with the fly he kills. However, the fly can be interpreted to represent every human being, including the insensitive boss. Just as the boss puts drop after drop on the fly, whatever powers there be put burden after burden on humanity, whether through nature, through war, through a hierarchical social and economic structure, or through the human need to dominate another creature. The pattern of human life is like the brief ordeal of the fly, which staggers, hopes, and rises, growing weaker each time, until at last it is conquered by death.

If Mansfield’s symbolism in this story is...

(The entire section contains 537 words.)

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Critical Essays