Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Ernie provides Rufus with his closest human relationship at work. They talk for hours at a stretch, and it is Ernie’s influence in the company that finally saves the young man’s career. From the older African American man, Rufus learns such valuable lessons as the importance of maintaining good relationships with one’s coworkers and, especially, one’s immediate superior. From the near calamity with Lana, he has, it is hoped, learned the importance of maintaining decorum at the office and being sensitive to the discomfort his actions may cause coworkers.

The narrator is so isolated in the city full of strangers that his fixation on the flies he sees at work and at home is a rather pathetic stopgap effort. His willingness to form bonds with a fly may indicate his suitability for a satisfying relationship with his own species; he is, after all, a man who likes animals.

On another level, the story demonstrates how the latent racism of late twentieth century American society can foster misunderstandings in the workplace. The representatives of both races depicted in the story tend to misinterpret each other according to culturally determined paradigms. The greatest irony of the story is that Rufus suspects that his problems with Lana stem from racial discrimination; it turns out that she cannot guess his race and is even dating an African American. Similarly, Ernie, as a member of the older generation, does not really trust his white employers, but ultimately it is their trust in Ernie’s judgment that saves Rufus.