Explaining how the fly is symbolic with the memories of the boss’s son.
The boss tests the fly’s limits in the story “The Fly” by Katherine Mansfield because he relates to the fly in that his memories of his son’s death are testing him. He wants to see if the fly can handle the challenges that he is giving it. He feels a “real admiration for the fly’s courage” (Mansfield, 278) Looking at the fly’s life and his memories of his son, you can see that they are directly related: as one dies the other fades. As well, fly is also similar to his son because he detests the fly, and his son for what they have done to him.
The boss detests his son for dying. As he is reminiscing about his son, he thinks, “Life itself had come to have no other meaning. How on earth could he have slaved, denied himself, kept going all those years without the promise for ever before him of the boy’s stepping into his shoes and carrying where he left off?” (Mansfield, 277). Clearly he feels a sense of resentment towards his son. His son was the reason that he spent those years working, and he wanted more than anything for his future to be safe and in control. He did not want all of his years building the company up to amount to nothing. You can see that the boss feels a need to be looked up upon, and loves the security he feels from his office when he states that “As a matter of fact he was proud of his room; he liked to have it admired, especially by the old Woodifield.” (Mansfield, 274). Since he feels this way, he feels a lot of resentment, and blames his son for leaving. When the boss is finished toying with the fly; after the fly has finally succumbed to all the tests that the boss is putting him through and dies, he is angry. He says angrily, “Look sharp!” (Mansfield, 278) but then he “stirred it with his pen – in vain. Nothing happened or was likely to happen. The fly was dead” (Mansfield, 278). After the fly dies, the boss picks up the fly with his knife, not touching with his hands, and flings in into the waste basket. While he is doing this, a “grinding feeling of wretchedness seized him that he felt positively frightened” (Mansfield, 278). He is angry with the fly, because the fly cannot stand up to the challenges it is facing, and dies. He is angry at his son, because his son cannot stand up to the challenges, both the war and his expectations of his father, and dies.
The fly and his son’s memories are also directly related. He is weeping, or I suppose in this case he is attempting to weep. The fly appears out of the corner of his eye. His memories are placed into the back of his mind. This is evident because he is admiring the fly’s courage, much like he admired his son’s courage when he went off to war. Primarily however, when the fly is dealing with it’s challenges, shrugging off it’s problems and being ready to go again. It is most evident that he is still thinking of his son when he is thinking, “That was the way to tackle things; that was the right spirit. Never say die; it was only a question of… But the fly had again finished its laborious task” (Mansfield, 278) and then the boss’s focus returns to the fly. He was going to mention his son. The fly fighting and dying made him forget about that. As the fly continues to die, so do his memories. His subconscious thinking of his son disappears. As the fly nears death, he begins to feel sympathy. The subconscious relationships with his son remain. He understands the fly’s struggles and the need to overcome the challenges that it faces. Then, the fly dies. It is over, “And while the old dog padded away he fell to wondering what it was he had been thinking about before. What was it? It was… He took out his handkerchief and passed it inside his collar. For the life of him he could not remember” (Mansfield, 279). He cannot remember. His memories died, along with the fly.
The fly’s life clearly has symbolic references in the story. These references are clear throughout the text. The references relate to the boss’s memories of his son, and as the fly’s life fades, so do they.