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

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In "The Fly in the Ointment," what is the father's reaction to his bankruptcy?

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V.S. Pritchett wrote "The Fly in the Ointment" as a reaction to his own family troubles; his father was frequently unlucky in business and his family had to move a lot in his youth.

The father in the story, who had become bankrupt, is at first complacent and accepting, even happy; he looks on the misfortune as a release from the burden of business and ever-increasing need to make money. The disconnect between the father Harold has known his entire life and the father who now sits and speaks of the evils of money gives Harold the idea that his father has "two faces," or two sides of his personality, and that one is only now reaching the surface:

...[Harold] noticed for the first time that like all big-faced men his father had two faces. There was the outer face like a soft warm and careless daub of innocent sealing-wax and inside it... a much smaller one, babyish, shrewd, scared and hard.

"For thirty years I built this business up... many's the time coming down from the North I've slept in this office... you can't live your life from A to Z like that."
(Pritchett, "A Fly..."

Although he is expressing both regret and relief, the father is not stable; the sight of a fly drives him into a frenzy of activity, as if to ward off his old age, but despite his firm protestations that he wants nothing more to do with money, his old personality is reactivated by Harold's hesitant offer:

"Why didn't you tell me you could raise money? How can you raise it? Where? By when?"
(Pritchett, "A Fly..."

Even though the loss of his business has given him pause for through, the father is still a businessman at heart, and his acceptance of the loss is only on the surface.

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