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

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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"The Fly in the Ointment" is a 1967 semi-autobiographical short story by V.S. Pritchett.

Harold is a low-paid university lecturer who is visiting his father, who has recently become bankrupt. During the visit, his father expresses his regret about his life of business, but his emotions may be a facade, as he becomes animated first by the idea of a simply retirement, and then more by Harold's offer of money to restart his business. Harold, for his part, is both sympathetic to and ashamed of his father; he loves the old man, but they have had quarrels for most of his life, yet this misfortune is enough to make Harold forget his old angers and visit:

His dread... vanished. He was overcome by the sadness of his father's situation. Thirty years of your life come to an end. I must see him. I must help him.

...he hated to offer charity to his father. He hated to sit there... to feel that he was being in some peculiar way which he could not understand, mean, cowardly and dishonest.
(Pritchett, "The Fly..." 1967, scribd.com)

However, while he clearly hates to see his father broken down, his trust and sympathy are betrayed as his father reverts to his old self. There is no coda to the story, but it is clear that Harold's feelings are conflicting; on the one hand, he is truly sad for his father, but on the other, he knows on some level that his offer will end badly.

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