Katherine Mansfield has presented three old men in her story, “The Fly”- the old Boss, old Woodifield and old Macey. The Boss is the central character in the story. Old Woodifield and old Macey are secondary characters. Old Woodifield is a minor figure, but he is much important in the story. He fulfils some important function in the story.
In “The Fly” Katherine Mansfield has given a picture of post-war depression in Europe. After the first World War one might come across many unhappy old men like Woodifield in England. Woodifield’s son Reggie died in the battlefield during the war. We may assume that the premature death of Reggie gave a tremendous shock to Woodifield. He had a stroke. After his retirement he become absolutely helpless and depressed. His wife and daughter kept him confined in the house everyday of the week except Tuesday. On a Tuesday he paid a visit to the Boss. During his conversation with the Boss Woodifield appeared as a pathetic figure. He did not remember what he wanted to tell the Boss. The Boss took pity on him and offered him a few drops of whisky to revive his memory. After drinking whisky Woodifield gave an account of the visit of his daughters to Belgium. The girls saw the grave of Reggie during their visit. They saw the grave of the Boss’s son in the same graveyard. As Woodifield narrated the story of his daughters’ recent visit to Belgium, he indulged in incoherent and irrelevant talk. Here Katherine Mansfield clearly shows that the First World War had made of old men like Woodifield.
In this short story Katherine Mansfield has concentrated on the character of the Boss but without Woodifield the character-sketch of the Boss would remain incomplete. The Boss’s conversation with Old Woodifield brings out the softness of his heart. The Boss’s offer of Whisky to his old friend is a gesture of tenderness and sympathy. The Boss was so sympathetic toward his old friend that at the time of his departure he followed him to the door and saw him out. Woodifield and the Boss had some similarities. Both of them were advanced in age and they had become victims of war. Both of them had lost their sons in the First World War. As a weak man Woodifield had become a pathetic figure after the premature death of his son. But the death of his only son made the Boss, a man of strong personality, a tragic figure. So it is seen that the character of old Woodifield serves a foil to that of the Boss.
The plot of Katherine Mansfield’s “The Fly” is based on two events old Woodifield’s visit to the Boss and the Boss’s action in killing an insignificant fly. The two events are closely connected. It is Woodifield’s visit that leads to the Boss’s killing of the fly. While giving an account of his daughters’ recent visit to Belgium Woodifield touched on the condition of the grave of the young men who died during the first World War. Even a casual mention of the grave of his son was enough to cause serious perturbation in the mind of the Boss. After the departure of old Woodifield the Boss tried to lighten the burden of his grief by weeping, but he could not weep as his grief was too deep for tears. Then he became absentminded and began to think of his dead son. In that mood he killed the fly without knowing what he was doing.
Thus it is seen that old Woodifield has performed some important function in Katherine Mansfield’s, “The Fly”. The pathetic condition of this old man helps us to understand the mood of post-war depression in Europe. He serves as a fail to the protagonist of the story and makes significant condition to the development of the plot.