What Are the Themes in the Story “The Fly” by Katherine Mansfield?

Neil Howard/CC-BY-2.0

The themes of “The Fly” by Katherine Mansfield include the inevitability of death, sorrow, the healing powers of memory and the effects of war on families. “The Fly” begins with the Mr. Woodifield visiting a character who is only referred to as “the boss.” The short visit has a profound effect on the boss, but he ultimately loses all memory of his momentary grief.

“The Fly” introduces the reader to Mr. Woodifield who is struggling with a bout of bad health. He is envious of the boss, who is healthy and well off. During the discussion, Mr. Woodifield mentions how he recently visited his son’s grave and saw the grave of the boss’ son. When Mr. Woodifield leaves, the boss is left saddened by the mention of his deceased son. However, his attention is soon turned to a fly swimming in his ink blotter. Feeling sorry for the creature, the boss rescues the fly and watches as the ink dries. Instead of letting the fly go, the boss continues to drip ink on the fly until it dies. Forgetting about the sorrow of his son’s death, the boss asks his secretary for a new ink blotter and gets back to work.

In the story, the fly drowning in the ink symbolizes the hardships that the boss has dealt with in life, such as the death of his son who died during a war. However, instead of drowning him in sorrow, the boss’ memories of his son and the sorrows that resulted from his death fade, ultimately healing him.