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Explain the theme of the parent/child relationship in the story "The Fly in the...

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jessicamartin... | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted May 10, 2011 at 10:21 PM via web

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Explain the theme of the parent/child relationship in the story "The Fly in the Ointment" by V.S. Pritchett.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:14 PM (Answer #1)

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V.S. Pritchett's "The Fly in the Ointment," studies the theme of relationships—here, between a father and his son.

 

Harold's father's career is crashing around him; when his son comes to the office, the old man is shy with him, an unusual response:

"Hullo, old chap. This is very nice of you, Harold," said the old man shyly.

(This is an extremely accurate glimpse into the human condition by the author: sometimes when an individual is at the "top of his/her game," he can be nasty. When he is sick, depressed or sad, he will soften.) The father seems to have changed. He hasn't always been nice to Harold:

"Come in, Professor," said the father. This was an old family joke. He despised his son, who was, in fact, not a professor but a poorly paid lecturer at a provincial university...

This shy, soft side of the father disappears when Harold mentions that his dad has always been an optimist. The old man goes through a noticeable change, though Harold never saw it before.

...the son noticed for the first time that like all big-faced men his father had two faces. There was the outer face like a soft warm and careless daub of innocent sealing-wax and inside it, as if thumbed there by a seal, was a much smaller one, babyish, shrewd, scared and hard.

The old man explains he has worked hard all his life; if he weren't an optimist, in the middle of losing his business, "I'd finish it" or, he would kill himself. Quickly, his good spirits are restored and he smiles a great deal. The "big face" is back. Then, just as swiftly, he alters again and starts to criticize his son: he is going bald, he doesn't give himself enough credit, he needs to "think big..." (This change in attitude is foreshadowing.)

Irritated, Harold continues to smile. His father moves on to other things, sometimes being critical; but eventually he becomes reflective. He admits he has made mistakes, the biggest one was putting money before anything else:

"Money's been my trouble," said the old man. "I thought I needed money. That's one thing it's taught me. I've done with money. Absolutely done and finished with it. I never want to see another penny as long as I live."

Harold finds it hard to believe this, but he came to support his father and has had to put the difficulties of the past behind him. He has not been treated well by his father (we can infer), but he cares for him nonetheless. Sad for his father, Harold says that had there been any way possible, he would have done whatever was necessary to raise money for him. With the speed of a trap snapping on a hapless mouse, Harold's father says:

Why didn't you tell me before you could raise money? How can you raise it? Where? By when?

Suddenly we are aware that the lesson Harold's father said he had learned has not had a lasting impact. Money still is the most important thing. We can assume that the relationship between the two has not changed: it probably never will. They are locked in this dysfunctional association. Immediately, the old man is demanding details about money from the son he detests. The old man is not much of a father, but Harold is very much the good son.

Pritchett points out that relationships are tricky things, slippery like ice, and hard to predict.

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khocha | Student, Grade 9 | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted December 13, 2011 at 10:11 PM (Answer #2)

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the relationship between the father and the son has not been well the past few years...but when the father becomes bankrupt his soft side is shown....Harold comes to visit his father and to help him.. when the father sees his son he becomes modest to him ' lowering his blue eyes for a seconds modesty..' he becomes shy infront of the son.. the son notices that the father has two sides ' like all other big faced businessmen his father has two faces..' this was noticed by the son for the first time! the father changes his attitude as soon as the son says ' you always were an optimist..' and he becomes aggressive and explains to him that he is 65 and does not know how long he'll live but he wants to make it clear to the son that he has ' worked hard to make business out of nothing..' ' he used to sleep in the office to get to the job early..' then suddenly he becomes happy and the ' big face overflows the little one..' he then begins to citicise his son's bald head and touches the pride of his son.. 'come in professor. this was an old family joke..' ' i would lecture the whole world- think big..' the son then tries to defend himself and says ' you've thought big till you bust..' to this the father replies, painting his real expressions and says, ' all 'big' bussiness men get bankrupt..' , ' and the small ones feel proud to get bankrupt with the big ones, it makes him feel rich..' later the father accepts his mistakes that the lust for money is a curse and that ' money is my trouble.....i shall not see another penny as long as i live..' the son then wants to make an offer of money to him but he feels that his father would be ashamed as he had always made fun of his son and had neglected his family and always ran after money but in the end the money is no help but the son is still loyal to his father and wishes to help him. the father is not true to the son and hides his true feelings, ' i am not worrying. things are fine. i KNOW they are..' this tells us that the two were not close to each other and that the relationship although improves during the mid story but becomes the same at the end as his father's lust for money returns and the son further feels embarrissed.

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icefur | Student, Grade 9 | (Level 1) Honors

Posted May 29, 2012 at 3:24 PM (Answer #4)

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The relationshop between the father and son doesn't seem well over the past few years. When the father goes bankrupt his soft side is shown as well as the sons caring and concerned side. The atomosphere between the father and son seems to be uncomfortable and their behavious with each other is quite formal. The father tries to bring back old memories refering to how the business used to be. After a brief conversation, the son realised that his father is two faced but is in worry and concern. The father was in urgent need of money and the son knew that his father required his help.

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hinashahid | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted May 13, 2012 at 7:45 PM (Answer #3)

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The crux of the story depicts the relationship between a father and son.By taking bird eye view of the story the reader come to notice that the relation between son and his father was not very well.After his father's bankruptcy ,Harold come to visit him to assist him or to support him financially and he observed a great change in father's personality.He has never been true to his son and always tried to hide his feelings.He worked very hard and worked for the lust of money ,forgetting all the comforts of family life .He admitted his mistakes and felt that money was not every thing and felt embarrassed before his son.But harold was the gem ,he didnot even tried to make his father embarrassed before him and wanted to help his father.

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maliknasir | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 24, 2012 at 4:38 PM (Answer #5)

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it is an intersting story of a double personality.most of us have double personilites.one is our real personility and the other isthat which we show to the world.many peple are hypocrites.they conceal a very ugly interior under a beautiful exterior.the story also tell us that the lust of money estrange a son from father.it is very diffcult to overcome this lust.

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mubbashir | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Honors

Posted November 6, 2012 at 2:53 PM (Answer #8)

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   Parent/child relationship is one of the main themes of the short story Fly in the Ointment. The relationship is pretty complicated. Harold acted very kindly towards his father as it was his last day. We can find many times in the story when Harold is showing sympathy to his father.

  On the other hand, the father's character is unusual. Normally the attitude of a father is not one like Harold's father, and if you know that your son is a poor lecturer. He is found speaking politely to  Harodl but often indulged himself in arguments with his son.

  The best example of the complicated relationship of the father and son in the story is that when Hrold offers him money but he refuses but then accepts it immediately as he quotes " Why didnt you tell me before you could raise money? How can you raise it? Where? By when?", knowing that his son is a poor lecturere of a university.

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sana-s-z | Student, Grade 9 | (Level 1) Honors

Posted February 8, 2013 at 1:31 PM (Answer #7)

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Double personality

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