In V.S. Pritchett's short story, "The Fly in the Ointment," one prevalent theme deals with the duality of Harold's father.
The man we meet when Harold comes to his father's failed business is solicitous and kind. He is pleased that Harold has come, he offers him tea—and is sad when Harold declines a drink—and apologizes for the state of his office. As the reader continues, it is discovered that the father has not always been so nice to 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.
This segment foreshadows later developments in terms of Harold's father's behavior. From the moment Harold arrives to provide moral support to his dad, he is careful to step carefully around his father.
Better not arrive in a taxi, he was thinking. The old man will wonder where I got the money from.
Harold has had many years to know his father, learning the hard way. Intriguingly, while they speak, the father insists that he has learned a lesson: that money has been his biggest problem, and he doesn't care if he never sees it again. However, as they continue to converse, the harder side of the older man (the one Harold knows so well) exposes itself, showing Harold something of this father that he had never before noticed:
"Listen to me a moment. I want you to get this idea," said his father, his warm voice going dead and rancorous and his nostrils fidgeting. His eyes went hard, too. A different man was speaking, and even a different face...the son noticed for the first time that...his father had two faces. There was the outer face like a soft warm and careless daub of innocent sealing wax...and inside it...was a much smaller one, babyish, shrewd, scared and hard.
The gentler side of his father may be a direct result of the failing business. When someone is successful and powerful, there often may seem little need to be kind to others. Disaster, however, has a sobering effect and can many times soften the hardest of hearts. While this "epiphany" is an eye-opening experience for Harold, it makes the reader wonder as to the point Pritchett is trying to make.
With regard to the duality of the father's personality, the first point may well be that people can be softened by tragedy. However, a second and different message from the author may be that "things are not always as they appear to be;" or, "people don't change overnight."
We are creatures of habit. Being resilient is necessary in survival; in truth, resilience rarely stops operating and simply disappears. With various examples of foreshadowing, we learn that while he seems soft on the outside, the hard heart of a tenacious and competitive man—one who has even swindled people out of their money—is still "alive and well," and living inside Harold's father.
It is the father's double personality we are talking about.
When Harold goes to see his father on the last day of his office, the father greets his son shyly as if not having the courage to face his son.
'Hullo, old chap. This is very nice of you, Harold'. said the old man shyly,stepping back to let his son in, and lowering his pleased, blue eyes for a second's modesty.
The father's two faces are further evident when he puts up a posture of as if nothing had happened and that his bankruptcy was nothing as compared with the other businesses that had gone bankrupt.
'Worrying? You keep on using that word. I'm not worrying. Things are fine,' said the old man. smiling aggressively. 'I feel they're fine. I know they're fine.'
His confession on where he thinks he made mistakes. Here he sounds like a man who has probably recognised his faults. Further adding that he would like to live in a nice little cottage by the sea and enjoy his life. This shows humility. He goes on further to quote the children of Israel trying to prove that money is not everything. Life can be made comfortable with basics only without lust or greed. He manages to put up a face without malice and as radiant as a harvest moon.
However, this face drops as soon as the son offers to try and raise money for him. Here comes to the surface the face of the shrewd businessman willing to grasp whatever he can muster.
'The father's sailing eyes came down and looked at his son's nervous,frowning face and slowly the dreaming look went from the fathers's face.Slowly the harvest moon came down from its rosy voyage.The little face suddenly became dominant within the outer folds of skin like a fox looking out of a hole of clay.He leaned forward brusquely on the table and somehow a silver-topped pencil was in his hand preparing to note something briskly on a writing -pad.
'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 the old man drops his outer soft warm and careless daub of innocent sealing-wax face and exposes the shrewd and hard man inside it.
One of the important character of the story,Harold father's character is beautifully potrayed by V.S Prichett.It seemed as if he possessed double personality, one side is completely different from another side.When Harold come to visit his father ,he observed the duality in his father's personality.At first he lowered his blue eyes in respect of his son ,giving more importance to his pressence .He tryed his best to cover his inner true feelings to show him as nothing happened with him.He became bankrupt ,lost all the luxuries of his good times and pretending by this justified remarks that all big business man got bankrupt.But when Harold said that he was always an optimistic person ,he became aggressive and explained that he was now 65 and had struggled very hard to twilight in his business.He used to sleep in the office to get to the job early and afterwards he started criticizing his son's reputation.V.S prichett has done his best in depicting the man's hardship of life through this memorable character of father.