The Fly by Katherine Mansfield, 1922
The magic trick:
Anthropomorphizing a fly’s struggle to live
In what is a very creepy and unsettling scene, Mansfield details a fly’s struggle to live even as man is continually pelting it with ink. The man, as the reader learns during the first half of the story, has struggled to find happiness in the six years since his son was killed in the war. His plight serves to anthropomorphize the fly, making the entire scene very sad and almost distasteful. The fly survives one spot of ink, washes itself, and prepares to fly away, only to have the man drop more ink on its wings, restarting the cycle. Is the man seeking inspiration from the fly’s ability to persevere? Is the man simply taking out his own agony on a defenseless creature? If the fly is a stand-in for the man’s pain, does this mean Mansfield is suggesting that the man is a victim of his own torture? Clearly, it’s a very thought-provoking scene. Very memorable. And that’s quite a trick on the part of Mansfield.
He’s a plucky little devil, thought the boss, and he felt a real admiration for the fly’s courage. That was the way to tackle things; that was the right spirit. Never say die; it was only a question of … But the fly had again finished its laborious task, and the boss had just time to refill his pen, to shake fair and square on the new-cleaned body yet another dark drop. What about it this time? A painful moment of suspense followed.