“The Fly,” by Katherine Mansfield and found in The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield, can be figuratively compared to jalapeno-spicy salsa. The sorrow of the story can quickly overcome a reader to the point that it brings him or her to tears the way some salsas can do the same. If you put yourself in the main character’s situation, you can easily see how he becomes numb to the world like taste buds become numb after eating spicy salsa; the numbness is so powerful that you can’t even remember how the rest of your food tasted. In a similar way, the boss’ painful memories of his deceased son are so overwhelming that at the end of the story, “for the life of him he could not remember” that he was just lamenting over his boy. Is Mansfield incorporating Freud’s relatively new concept of repression in her story?! They were alive during the same time period, and the fact that The Fly gives us a glimpse into the psychology of someone undergoing the grieving process makes me highly suspect!
Initially, the complexity and underlying mood of The Fly are very subtle, but as you continue to read, the deep confusion and sadness of the main character suddenly spills out at you. Readers are startled by the boss’ interaction with the fly because they have just been told about his depressing past. “Time . . . could make no difference. Other men perhaps might recover, might live their loss down, but not he. How was it possible?” To say the least, when the boss leaves the fly as the painter Joan Miro left his big, white canvases, the reader is “absolutely cowed, stunned.”
The abrupt changes in storyline and mood are as striking as the storyline and mood changes of Julio Cortazar’s Blow-Up. In fact, both of these stories are very much like Quentin Tarantino movies. Each includes a curious action scene that can only be vaguely explained by the numerous flashbacks and/or flash-forwards of the story. As readers go from beginning to end, they are forced to reinvent their thoughts and come up with a new answer as to what the plot is about on more than one occasion. Unfortunately in the end, readers are not left with a definitive answer; they are just left guessing as to the correctness of their conclusions. In addition, both The Fly and Blow-up delve deep into the thought processes of the main characters, the boss and Michel, respectively, as they try to deal with their emotions and rationalize their experiences. Although these characters deal with their emotions and experiences in completely different ways, it is undeniable that both characters will be haunted by their memories again and again. CH