Provide a character sketch of Harold (the son) in V.S. Pritchett's "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 is a man of strong character. Despite being raised by a self-centered, hateful father, Harold has a forgiving spirit and a desire to help—even for someone who seems not to deserve it.

As the story begins, we learn that Harold is wise enough to avoid trouble—a sign of self-preservation. His father's factory is closing in difficult financial times, and Harold arrives with care.

Better not to arrive in a taxi, he was thinking. The old man will wonder where I got the money.

We also learn that money is an issue. We might believe it is only because his father's business is failing, but Harold's description of family life says a great deal as to how money is always an issue; it also shows how Harold is able to rise to the occasion and be supportive in face of this disaster in his less-than-loving father's life.

Suddenly all the money quarrels of the family, which nagged in the young man's mind, had been dissolved. His dread of being involved in them vanished. He was overcome by the sadness of this father's situation...I must see him. I must help him. All the same, knowing his father, he had paid off the taxi and walked the last quarter of a mile.

Harold is a good soul because even though he is aware of how his father feels about him, he is present on the day the business will officially close. His father's attitude is expressed in his nickname for his son:

"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.

Harold is an educated man. He has a job, but his father's snobbery (it would seem) has relegated his son to an inferior position within society. His father does not resent the fact that his son has to struggle to get by (which would show concern on the father's part), but resents that his son is not success in the world of money—seemingly the father's "god."

Harold is long-suffering. Even as he is trying to be supportive of his father, his dad is critical, telling him that he is going bald. He says he's not being critical, but the old man is, and he goes on and on about it, indicative of how he is used to treating his son:

"Your hair's going thin," he said. "You oughtn't to be losing your hair at your age. I don't want you to think I'm criticizing you...but your hair you know—you ought to do something about it. If you used oil every day.."

Harold also is an honest person. He starts to suspect that his father has cheated clients in the past, and he is uncomfortable with this possibility:

...startled, [Harold] found himself asking: Were they telling the truth when they said the old man was a crook and that his balance sheets were cooked? What about the man they had to shut up at the meeting, the little man from Birmingham...?

In getting a clearer picture of Harold, we also are presented with a clearer sense of the man Harold's father is. Harold's kindness and willingness to forgive say volumes about how decent he is. Even as he wishes he could help his father at the end, his dad is only concerned about what Harold can do for him.

I mean—well, if it is ever a question of—well, to be frank, cash, I'd raise it somehow.

His father pouncing on him like a rabid dog:

"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?"

Thankfully, Harold is not his father's son.

Sources:

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