CHARACTER OF THE BOSS IN KATHERINE MANSFIELD’s THE FLY
Katherine Mansfield’s short story The Fly is taken from the collection ‘Dove’s Nest’ and inspired by her dear brother Leslie’s death, it is one of her finest short stories. The Fly is the story of a person haunted for six years by the death of his son. It is the depiction of anguish. Mansfield’s technique in her stories was to make her characters show their thoughts by a kind of mental soliloquy -fluttering, gossipy, breathless with questions and answers.’ Moreover like Lawrence she creates an intense atmosphere through suggestive details. The character of the Boss in the story The Fly is represented through dialogue, monologue and symbolism. These are the three clear cut sections in the story. The first introduction to boss is to his outside appearance. The second ventures into his mind. The third presents a thoroughly complex character that one has to think over.
The Boss is introduced through a conversation with his friend Woodifield. We realize Woodifield is old, retired, physically weak, and financially not very well off. Boss is presented through the method of contrast. The Boss is stout, rosy, healthy, although five years senior to him, but still going strong and in control of affairs. The Boss has done well for himself. He has a comfortable office with new carpet, new furniture, electric heating and with all the physical comforts that would give him -solid satisfaction’. But all this is appearance. The chink in the armour is the photograph of a grave looking boy in uniform. It was not new, it had been there for six years. The photograph strikes the discordant note. It is one old thing in all that is new. It hides a secret. It is a story of agony that the boss wants to avoid. So he does not draw attention to the photograph. But Mansfield’s process of breaking the appearance has started. She does it through Woodifield. The latter tries to remember something. The Boss feels sympathy for him. This is ironical. We soon question who wants sympathy. However the Boss produces a whisky to Woodifield’s glee. But the whisky unleashes a series of agony for Boss and soon the positions are reversed. Woodifield starts talking about Reggie’s grave and the grave of the Boss’ son nearby. The daughters of Woodifield had gone to Belgium and spotted it. The Boss makes no reply but only a quiver in his eyelid showed that he heard. This is the beginning of the process of suppression of emotion. Woodifield goes on describing the graves. The boss responds without even knowing what he was saying. The contrast in characters is clear. Woodifield had accepted his son’s death and could talk freely about it. But it hurt the Boss to even think about it. He wanted to avoid it. In fact he is a figure of pity. It was a hidden sorrow in his mind. After this Woodifield leaves. The mention of Reggie’s grave was a shock to the Boss. For six years the Boss had suppressed sorrow in his mind. He had never thought of the boy dead but in his uniform, sleeping peacefully. Now at the mention of his son’s grave, which was reality he tried to cry but he could not cry. It is common in Mansfield’s stories that characters come to the brink of tears but do not break down. She avoids sentiments. But she expresses something deeper. The Boss prepared to weep but could not weep. In the initial years the Boss used to break down thinking about his son. He had thought then the Time would not change his sentiments. He had considered himself far more hurt by his son’s death than others. He had worked all his life building up his business for his son. Life was meaningless without him. He had been the proud father. Often they had journeyed together. He had been loved by the office staff and he was not spoilt. But one telegram carrying the news of his son’s death had crashed his world. All this Mansfield narrates to bring out the depth of hurt in Boss and the intensity of his loss. It helps us understand the Boss’ emotions. But now after six years he could not recall his emotions. This was causing him further agony.