Analysis of The Fly by Katherine Mansfield

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.

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13 Comments
  1. Posted July 1, 2009 at 6:14 am

    Good analysis on the story needed it for my Upcoming Exam. Thanks.

  2. Posted August 19, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    strong,sensitive,sensible,sane.

  3. Jon
    Posted February 23, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    I think it is more likely that the boss resents the politics that flung his son into war rather than being upset with the boy himself. I see symbolism of the fly more as a critique of WWI, that young boys dropped like flies to serve the political establishment.

  4. Jan
    Posted January 20, 2011 at 6:41 am

    I beg to differ.
    Although he may resent the loss of his son, he doesn’t detest the death of his son.
    He weeps, or tries to, at the loss of his son- but some part of him has come to terms with it. He no longer weeps, and it is easier for him to get distracted. He adored the fly for struggling, and living through the first two obstacles. However, the third did enclose him, and it died- subconsciously, it reflects the battles his son must have faced.

    But in the end, one must perish, and “Time” did heal. The story signifies his love for his son, the pain at the loss of, and more importantly- Life. Where man struggles through life, but in the end perishes.

    Much like how one may reflect Shakespeare’s notion- That the world is the stage, our life the story, and we, the actors. We struggle, we strive but we are idiots. For we live like there’s no tomorrow.

  5. chand
    Posted May 25, 2011 at 3:42 am

    its good analyses……….

  6. abhijit samanta
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    death of his son and the fly’s futile attempt to survive are the indicative of man’s existensial absurdist anguish.

  7. abhijit samanta [burdwan]
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Death of his son and the fly’s futile attempt to survive are the indicative of man’s existential absurdist anguish.

  8. Posted August 6, 2011 at 12:26 am

    That’s what she said

  9. PB
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 9:39 am

    thanks a lot man… i needed it for a paper tomorrow… and a really nice analysis, i might add.

  10. Posted March 26, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    I am glad to have got such a detailed analysis… While reading the text, i was baffled but now it is clear… Thank. keep it up,

  11. Posted April 4, 2012 at 2:56 am

    gud to bee copied

  12. Posted June 7, 2012 at 9:26 am

    it,s really good analysis

  13. Posted July 24, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    tnx…in your individual analysis,,, now i understannd my report,, luv yah…. gud luck 2me.. ayah of MSU main.

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