Katherine Mansfield’s “The Fly”: Theme, Characters, and Setting of the Story

Subject: Literature
Pages: 4
Words: 1220
Reading time:
5 min
Study level: College


“The fly” is a short narrative written by one of the renowned authors called Katherine Mansfield. The author gives a narration about a former previous employee who visits his boss at the previous workplace. The visits’ main reason is to inform the author about his daughter’s visit to her late brother’s grave and happens to have seen the tomb of the boss’s son. The paper will provide a detailed analysis of the theme, characters, plot, points of view, style, language, and story setting.


The main idea or theme of the story is death. This is because the narrative commences with the meeting of two old men who lost their sons in the war. The story development also revolves around death and terminates with the fly’s demise. In an in-depth analysis of the story, there are six demises expressed by the author; thus, the dominant theme is death-causing grief and unending pain in the story (Mansfield, “The Collected Stories” 343).

Connection of the theme and the Title

The title of the story looks detached from the story’s central theme of death; however, it is indicative of the death tragedy conceived in the short narrative. The fly that the boss mistreats corroborates the piece of the death narrative. “The fly” title also reveals the struggles that individuals who have perished in the short story feel before they are dead and the pain they leave their loved ones.


The author of the story selectively gave names to some characters such as “the boss” to suggest the story’s theme. The boss ruthlessly mistreats the fly due to his authoritative character until its demise (Mansfield, “The Collected Stories” 356). The story’s protagonist is unnamed but is exclusively referred to as “the boss” since he evokes mixed rejoinders in the novel to the readers (Mansfield, “Selected Stories” 59). The other central character in the narrative is Woodfield, a friend to the boss and visits him every Tuesday. From his visits to the boss, the characters of the boss are espoused. Macey is the clerk to the boss, who obediently completes boss tasks like a loyal dog without question (Mansfield, “The Collected Stories” 361). The Boss and Woodfield are the dynamic characters in the speech, and traits change throughout the story expounding the readers’ awareness of the story. At the beginning of the story, significant power dynamics surface between the Boss and Woodfield. Woodfield recently got a stroke and is equated to a baby (Mansfield, “The Collected Stories” 356). In contrast, the boss is a great business person in the executive power position. The boss’s dynamic character is seen in his satisfaction with the office he renovated recently and his pride. However, in the story end, boss masculinity and crown status have faded away. He turned to be forgetful, vicious unable to control sorrow, and is easily overcome by grief like a baby, whereas Woodfield builds up to be stronger and vibrant at the end of the story.


The plot development of “The fly” story begins with Woodfield coming to pay a visit to his previous boss. The boss shows Woodfield his new redecorated office. The other major thing in the story is Woodfield telling the boss that his daughter went to Belgium and she saw her brothers and the boss’s son’s grave. Woodfield proceeds by explaining to the boss how his son’s grave was still so lovely. The story’s conflict develops when the boss puts all his distress of his son’s demise on mistreating and killing the fly (Manfield, “The Collected Stories” 362). The force of his son’s death makes the boss grief for an extended time, making him ask his secretary to leave the office for some time. The boss then sinks into deep thought about how he wanted to offer his son the company, but death took him before being granted the company (Mansfield, “Bliss and other stories” 143). The other character versus character conflict arises when the fly lands on the boss inkpot. He retrieves the fly out of the inkpot and tortures it till death. The theme emphasized in this conflict is death. The theme originating from character to character through the information Woodfield gives the boss is dead. The dominant theme in character versus self is WW I buried trauma which is evidenced from the uncontrolled grief that the boss espoused.

Point of View

The dominant point of view of using the third person in the story has been used to emphasize death. The narrator uses the third-person perspective instead of the Boss and Woodfield to illustrate the story’s theme. She uses the third person dramatic to show the thoughts and feelings the boss had about the death and his cruel nature on the fly. The narrator uses third-person perspectives limited omniscient makes the information about the thoughts and feelings of Woodfield be relayed to the readers via the boss. The first-person point of view in the story arises from the narrator’s own opinion and past experiences about death. The narrator gives her idea and experiences she got previously about death miseries.


Mansfield’s styles and language reflect on social setting and time, therefore easy to connect and follow (Bambušková 11). The story majorly involves dialogue, monologue, and directions to the emissary. The tone of the first portion of the story is dark humor, while the second half of the story espouses a deep melancholy mood. The allusion style used in the story heavily refers to WW I. “The fly” is also made of several parallelism styles. For instance, the Boss and Woodfield echo the struggle of the fly in the tussles they face in life after the loss of the loved ones (Thomas 258). The author uses several imageries such as similes and metaphors to explain the tragic incident of the fly and the inkpot, soldier’s graves, and the splendor of the boss’s office (Kimber 21). The office description imagery included similes such as “with legs like twisted treacle and metaphors, for instance, the bright red carpet with a pattern of large white rings.” (Mansfield & Silvia 3). The level of language employed in the whole story is minimal use of action to disclose human emotions. The story’s characters begin with simple language but proceed to complex language and sentences to explain the scenarios (Bambušková 13). The simple and complex languages relate to the theme since they are used to demystify the simplicity and complexity of death scenarios in the story. The fly used in the story symbolizes both physical death and death of will. The fly’s struggle and death indicate the end of the sons of both Woodfield and the boss. The fly also represents the boss’s death of will since he treats his employees without concern and kills the fly inhumanely.


The setting of the story is limited to the office of the boss. The office contained a photograph of the boss’s son, which he placed there for him not to forget about his son (Bennett 49). The presence of the boss’s dead son photograph in the office is connected to the theme of death which dominates the story. Boss emphasizes that he cannot put the photo in any other place but his office so that he keeps on remembering his son. Therefore, the setting of the story emphasizes the theme of death.

Works Cited

Bambušková, Tereza. “The Depiction of Inner Consciousness in the Short Stories by Katherine Mansfield.” 2014. Bachelor’s thesis.

Bennett, Andrew. Katherine Mansfield. Writers and Their Work. Hardco, 2004.

Kimber, Gerri. Katherine Mansfield and the Art of the Short Story. Springer, 2014.

Mansfield, Katherine, Laura Irina Poantă, and Silvia Mitrea. The fly. Paralela 45, 2003.

Mansfield, Katherine. Bliss and other stories. Vol. 283. Ripol Classic, 1947.

—. Selected stories. Oxford University Press, 2002.

—. The collected stories of Katherine Mansfield. Wordsworth Editions, 2006.

Thomas, J. D. “Symbol and Parallelism in “The Fly”.” College English 22.4 (1961): 256-262.