Modern short story has grown nearer to the lyric and close to the psychological mood-poem. Katherine Mansfield’s short “The Fly” is a case in point. It has the minimum of story in its shaping. It radically differs from the conventional short story in its mechanics of presentation. In it the treatment is not clear and logical enough. It offers a sympathetic insight into human soul in a moment of shock relying on atmosphere and suggestion. It is kin to the “stream of consciousness method” of fiction.
Here Katherine Mansfield concentrates on the moment in which past and present strive in revealing tension. A business man receives in his gorgeous office chamber his one time colleague Mr. Woodifield who though younger than Boss has now retired from the service and become “a frail old figure in the muffler.” The Boss who is still going strong pities Mr. Woodifield and serves him wine. Mr. Woodifield in course of conversation casually refers to the visits of his daughters to Belgium where they had come across the grave of his son, killed in the battle, six years before. After Woodifield’s departure from his office he finds a fly in his broad inkpot, takes it out and places it on a piece of blotting paper, lets drop on it blots of ink from his pen repeatedly to watch its successive attempts to cleanse itself and come back life until dies into the process. He is seized by “such a grinding feeling of wretchedness that he fells positively frightened. He finds himself unable to recall what he has been thinking of. The murmurs tension inside the individual so characteristics of much modern writing and reflecting so truly much modern experience is intensely present in “The Fly”.
The fly episode is surcharged with immense symbolic suggestion. Until the fly dies the Boss looks at the little creature with wonders and admiration. He fully appreciates the fly’s courage. The fly shows how to tackle the odds in life. One should not the overawed by danger and surrender to it passively. No one in this world is ready to part with life which is very dear without offering any resistance. The little creature in the process of fight dies a valiant death. The Boss becomes the instrument in bringing about the death of the fly. He becomes to the fly the veritable agent of Fate. The fly symbolizes the tragic helplessness of man in struggle against all powerful Fate. The role of the Boss in respect of the death of the fly in not much different from the role of the all powerful fate which had snatched away his son.
Thus Mansfield’s technique in the short story is to describe something while really indicating another. When the story begins the Boss appears to be very comfortable and confident-looking. But as the story proceeds the tragic aspects of life underneath his self-complacence comes to light. In fact he is much-more pitiable in his private life than Woodifield whom he pities. This is an annoy. The earlier part of the story it re-read in the light of the fly-episode will appear more meaningful and suggestive.
Thus apparently Woodifield’s visit to the office of Boss and the fly episode which may seen irrelevant to the central theme, namely, the revelation of the Boss’s bereaved heart are very much indispensable for the theme. The things in the piece are organically connected together. The story leaves behind the impression of an artistically delineated picture of the inner world of the boss. The story has the brevity of expression, acute characterization, inter connected episodes and the singleness of the situation.