The Character of Boss in “The Fly”

9 September 2016

Katherine Mansfield’s short story The Fly is taken from the collection ‘Dove’s Nest’ and inspired by her dear brother Leslie’s death, it is one of her finest short stories. The Fly is the story of a person haunted for six years by the death of his son. It is the depiction of anguish. Mansfield’s technique in her stories was to make her characters show their thoughts by a kind of mental soliloquy ‘fluttering, gossipy, breathless with questions and answers. ’ Moreover like Lawrence she creates an intense atmosphere through suggestive details.

The character of the Boss in the story The Fly is represented through dialogue, monologue and symbolism. These are the three clear cut sections in the story. The first introduction to boss is to his outside appearance. The second ventures into his mind. The third presents a thoroughly complex character that one has to think over. The Boss is introduced through a conversation with his friend Woodifield. We realize Woodifield is old, retired, physically weak, and financially not very well off. Boss is presented through the method of contrast.

The Character of Boss in “The Fly” Essay Example

The Boss is stout, rosy, healthy, although five years senior to him, but still going strong and in control of affairs. The Boss has done well for himself. He has a comfortable office with new carpet, new furniture, electric heating and with all the physical comforts that would give him ‘solid satisfaction’. But all this is appearance. The chink in the armour is the photograph of a grave looking boy in uniform. It was not new, it had been there for six years. The photograph strikes the discordant note. It is one old thing in all that is new.

It hides a secret. It is a story of agony that the boss wants to avoid. So he does not draw attention to the photograph. But Mansfield’s process of breaking the appearance has started. She does it through Woodifield. The latter tries to remember something. The Boss feels sympathy for him. This is ironical. However the Boss produces a whisky to Woodifield’s glee. But the whisky unleashes a series of agony for Boss and soon the positions are reversed. Woodifield starts talking about Reggie’s grave and the grave of the Boss’ son nearby.

The daughters of Woodifield had gone to Belgium and spotted it. The Boss makes no reply but only a quiver in his eyelid showed that he heard. This is the beginning of the process of suppression of emotion. Woodifield goes on describing the graves. The boss responds without even knowing what he was saying. The contrast in characters is clear. Woodifield had accepted his son’s death and could talk freely about it. But it hurt the Boss to even think about it. He wanted to avoid it. In fact he is a figure of pity. It was a hidden sorrow in his mind. After this Woodifield leaves.

The mention of Reggie’s grave was a shock to the Boss. For six years the Boss had suppressed sorrow in his mind. He had never thought of the boy dead but in his uniform, sleeping peacefully. Now at the mention of his son’s grave, which was reality he tried to cry but he could not cry. It is common in Mansfield’s stories that characters come to the brink of tears but do not break down. She avoids sentiments. But she expresses something deeper. The Boss prepared to weep but could not weep. In the initial years the Boss used to break down thinking about his son.

He had thought then the Time would not change his sentiments. He had considered himself far more hurt by his son’s death than others. He had worked all his life building up his business for his son. Life was meaningless without him. He had been the proud father. Often they had journeyed together. He had been loved by the office staff and he was not spoilt. But one telegram carrying the news of his son’s death had crashed his world. All this Mansfield narrates to bring out the depth of hurt in Boss and the intensity of his loss.

It helps us understand the Boss’ emotions. But now after six years he could not recall his emotions. This was causing him further agony. At this moment a fly falls in to the inkpot in front of the Boss. Somehow it clambered out. But then the Boss had an idea. He dropped ink over the fly again and saw it struggle. He admired the insect’s pluck. From this point onwards the Boss starts paralleling the plight of the fly with that of his son. Perhaps his son too had struggled like that on the battlefield. The Boss dropped another drop on the fly.

He wanted to see what would happen. His son had not escaped death. The Boss becomes God here. He refuses to let the fly live. The fly drops dead on the blotting paper. Then the Boss realizes the loss. It was the loss of his son. In agony he asks for fresh blotting paper. He could not remember what he was thinking about. He is reduced to the state of Woodifield. It is a highly complex mind that we encounter. It is left to the reader’s imagination to interpret what he is thinking. The Boss emerges as a pitiable character with a wound nobody can heal.

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