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So you’re going to teach Katherine Mansfield’s “The Fly.” Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, “The Fly” has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. While it has its challenging spots—formal brevity and important historical context—teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. Studying “The Fly” will give them unique insight into symbolism, figurative language, and important themes surrounding mortality, grief, and the legacy of World War I. This guide highlights some of the most salient aspects of the text before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance 

  • Publication Date: 1922
  • Recommended Grade Level: 9-12
  • Approximate Word Count: 2,200
  • Author: Katherine Mansfield
  • Country of Origin: England
  • Genre: Short Story
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Self
  • Narration: Third-Person Limited
  • Setting: Britain, Early 1920s
  • Dominant Literary Devices: Symbolism
  • Mood: Detached, Curious

Texts that Go Well with "The Fly"

All Quiet on the Western Front (1928), by Erich Remarque, is Remarque’s fictionalized biography of his experience fighting in the trenches in World War I. The protagonist, Paul, a member of the German military, quickly becomes frustrated with the war effort as he watches his comrades die and his resources grow scarce in the trenches. 

“In Flanders Fields,” by John McCrae, was written in 1915 when McCrae, a Canadian soldier and surgeon in World War I, presided over the funeral of a close friend. It has since become an iconic poem of the war, inspiring the adoption of the red poppy as the emblem of World War I remembrance. The poem provides a description of Flanders Fields, and the narrative voice takes on the perspective of fallen soldiers.

“The Fly” (1794), by William Blake, is a meditation on a fly that briefly lands on the speaker’s arm. The figure of the fly takes on similar existential resonance in Blake’s poem as it does in Mansfield’s short story. As Blake’s speaker asks, “Am I not / A fly like thee? / Or art not thou / A man like me?”

“The Garden Party” (1922), by Katherine Mansfield, is perhaps Mansfield’s best-known short story. In it, an upper-middle class teenage girl in New Zealand helps her mother prepare for a garden party. Her idyllic day is shattered when a man living in the nearby village is accidentally killed. Like “The Fly,” “The Garden Party” considers themes surrounding grief and mortality.

“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (1936), by Ernest Hemingway, is about a World War I veteran who suffers from sepsis while on a hunting trip in Africa. His illness causes him to reflect on scenes from his past as a World War I soldier, as well as scenes from his present—a bourgeois lifestyle he has enjoyed thanks to his wealthy girlfriend. Like “The Fly,” the story uses symbolism and narrative ambiguity to consider the moral complexity of World War I.

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Key Plot Points