Thursday, March 22, 2012

An anaysis of "the fly"

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The author of the character study short story “The Fly”, Katherine Mansfield, uses clever tactics of interpersonal exchanges to help the reader develop empathy for the nameless protagonist, the Boss. The Boss is viewed as a capable and stable individual at first glance, but the writer allows us to see beyond this fake exterior and understand the inner pathos of this emotionally tormented and torn individual. At closer inspection, his seemingly envious ideal lifestyle is instead one filled with inner conflict and sorrow.

As the story begins, a pathetic, burnt-out individual, otherwise known as Old Woodfield, is described. This “frail old figure” (457) is seen as someone with little dignity left because he has lost the mental capabilities to work, and thus he is extremely envious of the Boss and his success. The two of them share in some light-hearted conversation, and Old Woodfield regards the boss “wistfully, admiringly” (457) and jealously, but quickly becomes embarrassed once he cannot remember his reason for his visiting the Boss. Quick to judge, the Boss sees him as a “poor old chap” who’s on “his last pins” which reiterates the poor physical and mental health of the aging Woodfield. However, as their conversation progresses, and the reader learns of the common bond that they share (the death of a son in the First World War), it is the Boss who becomes the more fragile and pathetic of the two. Woodfield has come to grips with his grief, and moved onwards with his life, whereas the Boss seems to be gripping on to the memory. The statement “we cling to our last pleasures as the tree clings to its last leaves” (457) describes perfectly the situation of the Boss and how his relationship is with regards to his son’s memory.

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As the two’s discussion unfolds and develops, we learn about the Boss’s inability to face reality. He is so intent on honouring and preserving his deceased son’s life that he imagines him “lying unchanged, unblemished in his uniform, asleep forever” (45) and unharmed in a state of perfection rather than rotting away in some mass graveyard. In fact, he is so distraught that the dilution to visit the boy’s grave has escaped him. The boss clings to the past, and becomes disdainful and is emotionally surpassed by the deteriorating Old Woodfield. This is understandable, because the Boss has built up his business empire in the premonition that his son would eventually gain control of it. He lived purely for his son “Life itself had come to no other meaning” (45). This workaholic had “slaved, denied himself” (45) all in vain. The days seemed to be continuous, running from one day through the next with boarders of each passing day blurred after the passing of his son “It might have happened yesterday” (460).

The Boss not only loved his son, but also worshiped the ground that he walked on; he was a proud father. Consequently, though, the more time passed, the more he idealized his child. He made his dead son an idol to be worshiped. Near the end of the prose, it becomes evident that he mourns for his son because he is supposed to, and he feels obliged to, not necessarily because he still feels utmost grief. He becomes filled with guilt for not feeling as much sorrow as in the past, when emotional outburst were regular, but now his cries are part of a ritual or routine, not necessarily coming directly from his heart “He wanted, he intended, he had arranged to weep” (45). The Boss gets caught-up in memories, and acts almost self-righteous in his desperate attempts to preserve these mental images, for example “Other men perhaps might recover, might live their loss down, but not he” (45). This demonstrates his deep love for his son, but perhaps also shows the self-sacrifice and pride he receives for being such a dedicated father, ever continuing after his son’s death. His remorse for his son has developed and morphed over time from being genuine to being rather an idealistic pathos.

In the last half of the text, the Boss has an interesting exchange with a fly. The he pushes the fly to its maximum by continuing to tease it with blots of ink. The Boss’s character likes challenges and ‘pushing the envelope’, however, sometimes he goes to far, like when he actually spoils his own game by killing the fly. However, he then tosses away the fly into the waste-paper basket; the fly is disposable, unlike his memories. It is very ironic how a simple fly manages to thrive when faced with obstacles (such as ink droplets and the task of cleaning), whereas the supposedly strong Boss, when faced with the obstacle like the death of a loved one, cannot even seem to move forward and thrive through adversity. A fly is even more adaptable than the Boss, thus proving once again how pathetic this businessman is! “It was” (461) summarizes perfectly how he lives his life; stuck in the not forgotten � the Boss is looking backwards to the past instead of planning for the future, where ‘it will be’ is perhaps more appropriate.

In the last paragraph of the short story, the Boss’s has a major change; he cannot remember what he was thinking about before playing with the fly. This is very crucial because maybe it signifies the end of his mourning for his son � the memory isn’t strong enough for him to remember to cry. Also, it shows how he is becoming more like Old Woodfield, who’s memory, too, was fading “for the life of him he [the Boss] could not remember” (461). The Boss becomes progressively more dismal to the final conclusion where he is below Old Woodfield and a mere fly, in the comparison of aspects regarding weakness and pity.

In conclusion, “The Fly” is a quirky character study in which we learn about a character through two separate interactions he has. Descriptive to the point of necessary facts only, the author captures perfectly the essence of the Boss, first showing us the superficial view of his seemingly perfect and successful life, then revealing the underlying depression that makes him unenviable. His flaws are what make him human, and his grief makes him a recipient of empathy from the reader. He is no longer “still going strong” (457) but rather “positively freighted” (461) due to a heartbreaking loss.

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