A Summary and Analysis of Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Fly’

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University) ‘The Fly’ is not one of the best-known short stories of the New Zealand-born writer Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923), but it is significant for being one of her few stories which deals directly with the First World War. In the story, a man is reminded of the death of his young son in the war, only to become distracted by a fly which has fallen into the inkpot on his desk. A classic example of Mansfield’s modernist fiction, ‘The Fly’ is about loss, grief, war, and death, among other themes. You can read the story here before proceeding to the summary and analysis of the story below. The story takes around 10 minutes to read. ‘The Fly’: plot summary The setting of the story is the office of a man referred to simply as ‘the boss’. Old Woodifield is making his weekly social visit to the boss’s office. It becomes clear that Woodifield used to work at the company the boss runs, but after he suffered a stroke, he has taken early retirement and his daughters only let him out of the house once a week for his visit to the company where he used to work. The two men admire how snug the office is, and the boss thinks how old and near to death Woodifield looks. Woodifield has something he meant to tell his host, but he cannot remember it. To treat his guest and to try to jog his memory, the boss takes out a bottle of rare whisky and pours them both a drink. Then Woodifield tells the boss that his daughters have recently visited his son’s war grave in Belgium. He mentions that the girls also found the grave of the boss’s son. The boss has not made it over to Belgium to see his son’s grave yet. After Woodifield has gone, the boss finds himself struggling to grieve for his dead son, who was killed in the war. He reminisces about how much promise the boy had shown, and how well-liked he was at the company, where the […]

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