The beauty of short stories

By Georgia Bower

Although short stories are often criticised for being too limited to be effective, if a short story is compelling, it echoes in your mind long after you have finished reading it. Katherine Mansfield’s short stories proved to me that there is a certain beauty to short stories; their brevity encourages one to savour and muse over every word. I admire Mansfield’s ability to create such a dense and vivid world in the space of so few pages. For a short story writer, every choice has to be purposeful and powerful in order to bring the story to life. I enjoyed being able to read the entire story in one sitting as it allowed me to absorb the characters, setting and overall message of the work with a momentum that is lost when one puts a novel aside and returns to it later.


I admire Mansfield’s ability to create such a dense and vivid world in the space of so few pages.

There is a certain poetry to Mansfield’s short stories which I found particularly striking in ‘The Fly.’ ‘The Fly’ is one of Mansfield’s most famous and most compact short stories. The fact that the piece is composed of only five pages, makes it more impactful. Mansfield’s ‘The Fly’ dramatizes the reaction of a man when confronted with a painful memory he tends to suppress. I found it interesting to watch the short story gradually take shape and find its focus. It begins with surface level views of the characters Mr. Woodifield and the boss through their conversation. It is the narrator’s omniscient insights that show the reader how the characters truly feel as opposed to what they openly express. All-important details such as the photograph of ‘a grave-looking boy in uniform’ have a similar function in undercutting the dialogue. The boy in the photograph quietly haunts and dominates the piece.


‘The Fly’ is one of Mansfield’s most famous and most compact short stories.

Mansfield shows the boss’s complex relationship with his son’s death. The boss feels dissatisfied that he cannot cry over his son’s death anymore as he feels he wants to and should. The climax of the piece is the disturbing image of the boss drowning a fly in ink which is his way of trying to establish a sense of control over life and death. ‘The Fly’ ends ambivalently with the boss’s forgetfulness about his son’s death which had previously consumed his thoughts. It is as though he has let this ink spread across and stain his mind blank. He tosses the ‘corpse’ of the fly into the waste paper bin like he tosses his previous lamentations away, and he moves on.


An exhilarating read

‘The Fly’ left a lasting impression on me and taught me about the artfulness behind a great short story. The piece moves quickly towards an unknown ending which makes it an exhilarating read. I would highly recommend reading Katherine Mansfield’s impressive collection of short stories and exploring short stories in general.

Image via Pixaby

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