The Fly - A criticism of society at war

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In what ways is `The Fly' an excellent example of social criticism through
symbolism and allegory?
Katherine Mansfield wrote the story `The Fly' as an allegory, using symbolism in 3 ways, to criticise the early 20th
century society and the older generation's attitude towards world war one.
In the story, the Boss and his companion are talking about the war in his office. The conversation reminds the Boss of
his son who died in the war. The Boss ends up hurrying his companion out to think on his own but then is distracted by
a fly that has fallen into his inkpot; the Boss rescues the fly then drowns it.
Mansfield uses the fly to symbolise the young men and the experiences they fought in the war and the Boss to
symbolise the ignorance the older generation had of the war.
When the fly falls in the ink it tries `feebly but desperately to clamber out again'. Many young men in the war were
put in life threatening situations that they could not escape. The desperation of the fly to get out of the ink pot
symbolises the desperation of many of the soldiers to get out of the war.
Once the fly is out of the pot it begins the task of cleaning itself. Many soldiers in the war would have to clean up
after a fight even if they were tired and injured. Mansfield describes the fly's cleaning as `over and under, over and
under, went a leg along a wing, as the stone goes over and under the scythe' to parallel the movements of soldiers
clambering over and under trenches. The fly had to clean itself to survive, it probably wanted to give up but it knew it
must carry on. Many soldiers would have had difficult tasks they had to face to just survive and would have wanted to
give up but didn't and carried on fighting, carried on climbing over and under trenches.
Mansfield further symbolises the soldiers efforts and courage when the fly `painfully, dragged itself forward' to
show that, alike the fly that carried on even though it was in a lot of pain, the soldiers would carry on fighting
regardless of the pain they may be in.
Mansfield describes the boss to criticise members of the older generation for the suffering the young soldiers went
through and to symbolise their ignorance of the brutality of the war.
When the Boss is thinking about the photo of his son he dislikes it because `it was cold and even stern looking, the
boy had never looked like this'. The Boss didn't realise the suffering his son went through in the war and doesn't
recognise the change in the boy that resulted from the sadness and seriousness of the war.
The Boss didn't realise how the war had changed his son. `Although six years had passed, the Boss never thought of
the boy lying unchanged, unblemished in his uniform'. The Boss hadn't thought about his son's death properly and
had just imagined it as if it were any other natural death or the boy had just fallen asleep when in reality the boy had
probably shot or blown up and his body never recovered. This shows the Boss' ignorance of the brutality of the war
and the way in which young men died.
The Boss had also failed to acknowledge his son's death and go visit his grave. "For various reasons the Boss had not
been across" and this shows that the Boss didn't respect what his son did.
Mansfield uses the Boss to criticise the older generation because they did not seem to care or think much about the
war and the harsh effects it had on the soldier's lives. The Boss hadn't gone to see his son's grave like many fathers in
the time hadn't and she thought that this was disrespectful.
Mansfield's description of the Boss could also symbolise the military leaders of the war and criticised them for
planning the war from far away and caring for winning rather than the lives of their men.
The Boss calls the fly `your artful little b..' and this is the same way that generals would talk to their soldiers. Mansfield
could be symbolising that generals treated their soldiers as if they weren't human and took the mick slightly when
they did something courageous rather than praise them properly.
The Boss also tells the fly to `look sharp!', this was a well-known order for generals to use to make their men more
attentive. The Boss uses it when the fly is struggling and it could symbolise that generals weren't bothered about the
health of their soldiers but were just bothered about their soldiers looking the part and getting into battle.
Mansfield makes her last criticism of the war when `The Boss lifted the corpse on the end of the paper-knife and
flung it into the waste-paper basket'. This symbolises how generals thought their troops were disposable items for
the use of winning the war and weren't bothered about the soldiers dying.


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