Explain/discuss in what ways Harold is a rounded character unlike his father in the "The Fly in the Ointment" by V.S. Pritchett.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In V.S. Pritchett's short story, "The Fly in the Ointment," Harold is very much a round character, while his father is not.

A round character is defined as:

...one who is capable of change and evolution throughout a story.

Harold is a son who has been treated badly (we can assume on a regular basis) by his father, with an example noted 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.

Harold is disliked by his father not because he is a bad person or because he has been unkind to his parent, but because his job is a humble one and he does not make a great deal of money. However, the older man's criticism of his son goes beyond his career choice and lack of financial success. The father is—in a very non-parent-like way—critical of his son's physical appearance.

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?

As the story progresses, the reader discovers that despite his father's treatment of him, Harold is overcome by a desire to ease his father's pain as the older man's life changes dramatically. Harold's father's factory was successful for many years, and money means everything to him. As his father's business now begins to disappear—the workers are gone and the furniture sold—Harold's father seems lost. Harold, however, is willing to forget the past and morally support his dad, showing that he is able to change.

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 his father's situation...I must see him. I must help him.

It seems that Harold's father is also capable of change when he announces:

I've done with money. Absolutely done and finished with it. I never want to see another penny as long as I live.

This might be good news if it were true. Harold, once again showing his ability to leave old pain and heartache delivered at his father's hands, behind, says:

I'm not rich. None of us is...we can't do anything. I wish I could, but I can't...But the idea of your being—you know, well short of some immediate necessity, I mean—well, if it is ever a question of—well, to be frank, cash, I'd raise it somehow."

This is born of Harold's wish to alleviate his father pain, much as a loving parent would act with a child. However, we see that Harold's father has not changed at all. As soon as Harold utters what is no more than a hope, his father's old persona—self-centered and overbearing—returns in full force as he demands details:

"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?"

Harold is able to grow up in the story and forgive and forget his sire's "sins" of aggression towards him. However, perhaps his father speaks as if he has changed because it may make him seem less pathetic—something he cannot handle personally, though he is quick to point out aspects of his son that old man sees as pathetic.

Harold is a good son, despite his father's behavior. His father really does not deserve his son's concern.

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