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

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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.

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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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What is the central theme of "The Fly"?

One theme of this story addresses how desperate we are to maintain some semblance of control. The boss feels in control of the conversation with Woodifield, congratulating himself on his relative youthfulness despite the fact that he is actually older than his visitor, and he feels a "deep, solid satisfaction." Woodifield compliments the boss's office, the carpet, the electric heating, and the boss feels "exultant." He ordered all these changes himself. The boss even trots out his best whisky—to impress his visitor and control the interaction.

However, once Woodifield brings up their dead sons, something changes. Woodifield leaves shortly thereafter and "the boss stayed, staring at nothing." Then he attempts to cry—he "arranged to weep"—but finds he cannot. This, he cannot control. "It had been a terrible shock to him when old Woodifield sprang that remark upon him about the boy's grave." The boss's mental image of his son's grave is changed by the details Woodifield shares. He considers how he had "slaved, denied himself, kept going all those years" because he always planned for his son to succeed him in the business. "But all that was over and done with as though it never had been." He can recall the telegram that informed him that his son had been killed in the war: "He had left the office a broken man, with his life in ruins." Despite his best-laid plans and despite his son's promise and potential, the boss could not retain control, and everything fell to pieces.

In the end, he can control the fly's death. He tortures the tiny creature, simultaneously impressed by its perseverance and attracted to the fact that he has the power to make it grow weaker and more feeble. The boss could not control his son's life or his son's death, but he can control this fly's life and death. In doing so, he seems to feel as though he regains some measure of control, but then he realizes how fleeting and empty this feeling is—"a grinding feeling of wretchedness"—as it does not bring his son back. Ultimately, he can control very little, and this is a horribly uncomfortable feeling.

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What is the central theme of "The Fly"?

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. 

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What is the theme of "The Fly"?  

One theme that is evident in "The Fly" is the cruel and lasting effects of war.

In the boss's office is a photograph of his son; his image has solemnly and silently been a presence in the office for over six years. The young man is dressed in a military uniform, with storm clouds behind him. This was the boss's only son; he had sacrificed endlessly to create a strong business to one day transfer to his son. War ended those plans, and the boss feels that his life now has no purpose.

His loss is even more painful because of his son's personality. People everywhere congratulated the boss on his good fortune; his son was bright, well-spoken, and charming. He had even begun to spend time in his father's office to learn some of the basics of the business.

The grief the boss feels is so absolute that he has never been able to travel to his son's grave. When Woodifield mentions the grave, the boss again collapses into feelings of hopelessness. His pain is so deep that he feels as if "it might have happened yesterday."

He then turns his grief into brutality, becoming the aggressor against a helpless fly. He tortures the fly over and over, allowing it to almost gain the ability to fly before dousing it in ink once more. He methodically watches as the fly's life leaves its body and it can no longer move.

The story therefore demonstrates the unavoidable cruelties of warfare. Its losses are far-reaching, ending the dreams and plans of those who are not even directly involved in the war. The story also suggests that people who have suffered deeply painful losses in wars may demonstrate a greater brutality in their own spheres of influence.

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