The Fly in the Ointment Questions and Answers
by V. S. Pritchett

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Compare and contrast the father-son relationships in "The Fly in the Ointment" by V.S. Pritchett and "The Custody of The Pumpkin" by P.G. Wodehouse.

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Both of these short stories present father-son relationships that are particularly fraught and where little mutual understanding or successful communication is able to occur. In "The Fly in the Ointment," the metaphorical fly that prevents the son and the father from actually being able to communicate honestly is the father's obsession with money. It is his greed that has led him to swindle and cheat people along the way, and it is his greed that has also resulted in the closure of his factory. It is also his greed that has resulted in the estranged relationship he currently has with his son. The son realises that there are two people in the person of his father: the first is presentable and affable, but the second, which his father keeps concealed, is defined by avarice and cold, hard calculation. Note how this second self reveals itself when the son, out of kindness, says he can give his father money if he needs it:

The little face suddenly became dominant within the older folds of skin like a fox looking out of a hole of clay.

The "real" side of his father suddenly exerts itself once more, and the hard, calculating and money-obsessed self that he truly is dominates his figure. What the son meant as an act of love and devotion is treated with greed and avarice by his father. The two are unable to communicate openly.

In "The Custody of the Pumpkin," the father-son relationship is presented in a much more humorous way, but still the relationship between Lord Emsworth and his son is characterised by a lack of understanding and an inability to communicate. Lord Emsworth really only cares about his pumpkin, and his son conducts his romantic engagement in absolute secret, only revealing the existence of Aggie, his bride-to-be, when forced to by his father. He does not want to tell him openly about their secret marriage, and so drops a letter off instead. His feelings about his son are expressed when he meets his son's father-in-law and is told of the plan for Freddie to go to America to learn about his new wife's father's business:

The getting rid of Freddie, which he himself had been unable to achieve in twenty-six years, this godlike dog-biscuit manufacturer had accomplished in less than a week. What a man!

Although the relationship is presented in a much more comic light, therefore, it is clear that there exists in this father-son relationship the complete inability of the father to understand the son, or perhaps even to try. The two figures in both stories are unable to communicate.

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