The Fly

by

Katherine Mansfield

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The Boss Character Analysis

The unnamed protagonist referred to exclusively as “the boss” is a successful London businessman and the former employer of Mr. Woodifield. The boss initially appears to be a man of action who has aged well, retaining a youthful countenance. He commands respect from all those around him, including Woodifield and the boss’s loyal clerk, Macey. As the story unfolds, it is clear that the boss lost his son six years ago in World War I. Woodifield’s reference to each of their son’s graves unnerves the boss, as he is deeply affected by the memory of his beloved boy. After Woodifield’s departure from the office, the boss reflects on his crushing loss but strangely finds himself unable to cry, even though the mere thought of his son would make him weep in years past. He quickly grows distracted by a fly floating in his ink pot and decides to torture it repeatedly until it dies, all the while barking at it to “look sharp” and be resilient. At the story’s conclusion, the boss suddenly transforms into a nervous and forgetful character who echoes Woodifield’s frailties.

The Boss Quotes in The Fly

The The Fly quotes below are all either spoken by The Boss or refer to The Boss. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Consequences of War Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Fly published in 1956.
The Fly Quotes

“Y’are very snug in here,” piped old Mr. Woodifield, and he peered out of the great, green-leather arm-chair by his friend the boss’s desk as a baby peers out of its pram.

Related Characters: Woodifield (speaker), The Boss
Page Number: 343
Explanation and Analysis:

So there sat old Woodifield, smoking a cigar and staring almost greedily at the boss, who rolled in his office chair, stout, rosy, five years older than he, and still going strong, still at the helm. It did one good to see him.

Related Characters: The Boss, Woodifield
Page Number: 343
Explanation and Analysis:

“It’s whiskey, ain’t it?” he piped feebly. The boss turned the bottle and lovingly showed him the label. Whiskey it was. “D’you know,” said he, peering up at the boss wonderingly, “they wont let me touch it at home.” And he looked as though he was going to cry. “Ah, that’s where we know a bit more than the ladies,” cried the boss […].

Related Characters: The Boss (speaker), Woodifield (speaker), Woodifield’s Daughters, Woodifield’s Wife
Page Number: 344
Explanation and Analysis:

The door shut, the firm heavy steps recrossed the bright carpet, the fat body plumped down in the spring chair, and leaning forward, the boss covered his face with his hands. He wanted, he intended, he had arranged to weep….

Related Characters: The Boss (speaker), Woodifield, The Boss’s Son
Page Number: 346
Explanation and Analysis:

His boy was an only son. Ever since his birth the boss had worked at building up this business for him; it had no other meaning if it was not for the boy. Life itself had come to have no other meaning. How on earth could he have slaved, denied himself, kept going all those years without the promise for ever before him of the boy’s stepping into his shoes and carrying on where he left off?

Related Characters: The Boss (speaker), The Boss’s Son
Page Number: 346
Explanation and Analysis:

Six years ago, six years…. How quickly time passed! It might have happened yesterday. The boss took his hands from his face; he was puzzled. Something seemed to be wrong with him. He wasn’t feeling as he wanted to feel. He decided to get up and have a look at the boy’s photograph. But it wasn’t a favourite photograph of his; the expression was unnatural. It was cold, even stern-looking. The boy had never looked like that.

Related Characters: The Boss (speaker), The Boss’s Son
Page Number: 347
Explanation and Analysis:

At that moment the boss noticed that a fly had fallen into his broad inkpot, and was trying feebly but desperately to clamber out again. Help! Help! Said those struggling legs. But the sides of the inkpot were wet and slippery; it fell back again and began to swim.

Related Characters: The Boss, Woodifield, The Boss’s Son
Related Symbols: The Fly
Page Number: 347
Explanation and Analysis:

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 ….

Related Characters: The Boss, Woodifield, The Boss’s Son
Related Symbols: The Fly
Page Number: 347
Explanation and Analysis:

The boss lifted the corpse on the end of the paper-knife and flung it into the waste-paper basket. But such a grinding feeling of wretchedness seized him that he felt positively frightened. He started forward and pressed the bell for Macey.

Related Characters: The Boss, Woodifield, The Boss’s Son, Macey
Related Symbols: The Fly
Page Number: 348
Explanation and Analysis:

“Bring me some fresh blotting paper,” he said sternly, “and look sharp about it.” And while the old dog padded away he fell to wondering what it was he had been thinking about before. What was it? It was…. He took out his handkerchief and passed it inside his collar. For the life of him he could not remember.

Related Characters: The Boss (speaker), Woodifield, The Boss’s Son, Macey
Related Symbols: The Fly
Page Number: 348
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Fly LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Fly PDF

The Boss Character Timeline in The Fly

The timeline below shows where the character The Boss appears in The Fly. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Fly
Performances of Masculinity Theme Icon
On a Tuesday in an office in “the City,” the boss and his former employee Mr. Woodifield are midway through conversation. “Old Woodifield” is seated in... (full context)
Consequences of War Theme Icon
Performances of Masculinity Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
The boss , idly flipping through the Financial Times, affirms Woodifield’s comments about the plush office, smug... (full context)
Performances of Masculinity Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
Woodifield grows frustrated that he cannot recall a detail he greatly wants to share with the boss , becoming dim-eyed and trembling as he struggles to remember. Feeling generous, the boss offers... (full context)
Consequences of War Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
After a sip of whiskey, Woodifield suddenly remembers the detail he wanted to share with the boss : while visiting their brother Reggie’s grave in Belgium, Woodifield’s daughters came across the boss’s... (full context)
Consequences of War Theme Icon
Performances of Masculinity Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
After Woodifield leaves, the boss stands for a long moment, staring at nothing. Macey, the elderly office clerk, watches the... (full context)
Consequences of War Theme Icon
Performances of Masculinity Theme Icon
The boss recalls how ever since his son’s birth, the boss had built up a successful business... (full context)
Consequences of War Theme Icon
Performances of Masculinity Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
Reflecting on how quickly the six years have passed, the boss is dismayed by his current inability to grieve for his son. The boss feels that... (full context)
Consequences of War Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
A fly drowning in the boss ’s inkpot suddenly draws his attention away from memories of his son. The boss watches... (full context)
Consequences of War Theme Icon
Performances of Masculinity Theme Icon
However, before the fly can take to the air, an idea strikes the boss to test the fly’s response to further adversity by engulfing it in a blot of... (full context)
Consequences of War Theme Icon
Performances of Masculinity Theme Icon
Upon the fly’s second moment of freedom, the boss quickly refills his pen and drips another blot of ink on his victim. The boss... (full context)
Consequences of War Theme Icon
Performances of Masculinity Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
The boss disposes of the fly’s body in a waste paper basket, upon which he experiences “such... (full context)