How does V.S. Pritchett make the father such a memorable character in "The Fly in the Ointment?"

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

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In V.S. Pritchett's "The Fly in the Ointment," Harold's father is memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Harold is a person who has been emotionally and mentally harmed by his father, but still he is capable of forgiving his father's unkind behavior—the kind we see in the following passage:

"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 shows us that Harold's father is, in fact, a villain of sorts. What kind of a parent, we might ask, would fault his son because he has a humble job and makes little money? A parent might worry for the sake of a child, but not be hateful. The older man "despises" his son.

As if it is not enough to find fault with his son's choice of job, the father also is extremely harsh in criticizing his son's baldness:

Do you know, you're actually more bald at the back than I thought. There's a patch there as big as my hand. I saw it just then. It gave me quite a shock. You really must do something about it. How are your teeth? That may have something to do with it. Hasn't Alice told you how bald you are?

While Harold is very much in favor of putting aside hardships and heartaches he has suffered at his father's hands in order to support the older man as his business is going under, his father cannot even be civil when Harold wishes aloud that he could help his father. Besides the fact that his father's misconstrues his son's desire (and it is only a desire—Harold has no money), the father returns to his "sharp" and demanding self when he thinks there is money to be hand from this son he hates:

"Raise it?" said the old man sharply. "Why didn't you tell me before you could raise money? How can you raise it? Where? By when?"

Here is a man who is memorable by contrast to his forgiving son. In a way, Harold may serve as a foil for his father. A foil is:

...a character who contrasts with another order to highlight various features of that other character's personality...

Even from the depths of failure, Harold's father finds a way to "rise to the occasion," becoming arrogant and money-hungry only moments after he swore he never wanted to see another penny. He is memorable because it is so easy for the reader to quickly form a strong distaste for the kind of parent he is, in sharp contrast with Harold, who is willing to forgive all and offer his kindness and concern.


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