Of the two main characters, with a positive function, of the short story The Fly, Mr. Woodifield is less prominent. He stands by the side of the boss to sharpen the latter’s nature and reveal his psychology, Katherine Mansfield, in fact, well exploits this old, retired, sick fellow as a foil to her hero, the boss, a person of robust health and riches.
Mr. Woodifield is a frank, open-hearted, jolly person who wants to drink life to the lees. His ailment keeps him confined to home in the strict homely discipline. But he clings passionately to his lost pleasures and makes a mess of all, whenever he gets a chance. On every Tuesday, he is permitted to visit his friends and he voraciously enjoys the day to the detriment of his own health and the disgust of his friends and fellow beings.
Mr. Woodifield is old, and his mind seems to fall along with his body. His hands tremble and his face looks reddish, as he talks, while his brain forgets to recollect the purpose for which he has come to the boss. His interest in wine and cigar, however, remains. His mouth falls open at the squat bottle, brought ‘from the cellars at Windsor Castle.’ He swallows the drink greedily and praises it heartily. The portrait of a simple, frank, rather greedy man is clearly seen in him.
Mr. Woodifield has no reserve and is temperamentally emotional. He admires impulsively the neat, comfortable arrangements of the boss ‘It’s snug in here, upon my word!’ He exclaims and admires, one after another, the ‘new carpet’, the ‘new furniture’, the ‘electric heating’, and so on. He feels exultant, as he watches all this. There is a kind of primitive fascination for all cosy and costly things in him. He is here a simple old fool.
Mr. Woodifield’s feeling has also hardly any depth. It is too shallow and leaps up at anything. When he is warmed by the royal wine, he remembers the purpose of his visit and refers to the graves of his son and the son of the boss. He is a bereaved father, as the boss, but he expresses no word of grief or regret for the death of his own son. He shows interest in a nice way, in which the graves are maintained in the foreign land, and talks a good deal of nonsense about the hotel where his girls stayed. In fact, he lacks seriousness and is at the bottom a superficial fellow. There is nothing of the psychological intricacy of the boss in him.
Yet, Mr. Woodifield plays a significant role in the story. His episode begins the story. It is he who rouses the dormant sorrow of the hero—the boss. He makes the current of memory flow in him again and disturbs his composure. His reference to his son’s grave is instrumental to his behavior with the fly. There would have, indeed, been no fly episode without Woodifield and his reference to the graves of the sons.
Mr. Woodifield is far less important than the boss. But his character, too, is impressively drawn. He is represented as an average man of the material world, who loves an easy, carefree life in drink, smoke, and idle talk. Such a figure is real, common, rather familiar, and Katherine Mansfield well enlivens this. What is particularly significant in Woodifield’s character is the contrast implied with the boss. He acts, indeed, as a foil to the hero, the boss, and serves to emphasize his personality as well as dignity. The boss’ grief for his son’s death is sharpened by Mr. Woodifield’s slight, light-hearted attitude to his son’s grave. The tragic seriousness in the boss is much focused on by him.