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"The Fly in the Ointment" is a 1978 short story by V.S. Pritchett.
Harold, a professor of low standing, visits his father, who has recently become bankrupt. Although his father is contemptuous of Harold's low pay and status, he attempts to remain happy in his son's eyes; he does not want to seem a failure, but instead to be content with whatever he has accomplished. Although he has lost his business, he can now live a quiet, simple life, without the "curse" of earning more and more money hanging over his head. When a fly enters the room, the father focuses his concealed anger on it, and stands on the table to kill it, but cannot reach the ceiling. He abruptly becomes tired and allows Harold to help him down, and confesses that he has wasted his life chasing money. Harold, feeling shame and sympathy for catching his father in this moment of weakness, offers to lend him money to help him restart his business. His father, after making sure the offer is real, begins to adopt the businessman's personality again, and berates Harold for not offering the money sooner.
Pritchett draws on his own life for this tale, and weaves matters of parental approval, lust for money, dueling personalities, and parent/child respect into the story.
It is an interesting study of a double personality. Most of us have double personalities. One is our real personality and the other is that which we show to the world. Many people are hypocrites. They conceal a very ugly interior under a beautiful exterior. The story also tells us that lust for money estranges a son from the father. It is very difficult to overcome this lust.
A bank factory-owner becomes bankrupt. His liquidators take away all his machines and furniture. He is sitting alone in his empty drawing room. His son, Harold, a poor University professor, comes to help and sympathies with him. Harold has been much disliked by his father for his poor job and low financial status. Harold enters the room, and starts consoling his father. The father tries to keep up appearances. He tells Harold that he is not at all worried. Many other big businessmen have also been bankrupted along with him. He explains that such riches and falls are very common in business. He says that lust for money is a curse. He always wanted to make more money than he wanted. Now he is happy because the curse has left him. He declares that now he will live a very easy, happy simple and contented life in some remote village.
All of a sudden, a fly enters the room. The father gets upset. He gets up with a duster to kill it. He tells that he has always hated these dirty things. No fly had over dared enter his room till then. Harold opens the window and the fly goes out. But in enters again, and sticks to the ceiling. The father stands at the top of the table and tries to kill it, but in vain. He feels tired out. Suddenly, he starts looking very old and weak. He requests Harold to help him climb down the table. When he comes down, he tells Harold that he is already sixty-five, and is nearing his death. He cannot struggle any more. He was sadly and badly mistaken in running after money all his life.
Quite unexpectedly, Harold makes him an offer of money to restart his business. The old man, at first rejects the offer. But when Harold repeats, and the old man becomes sure that the offer is real, he jumps with joy. His face starts becoming with excitement. The outer mask of his personality is removed. His real personality of a businessman comes to the forefront. He astonishingly asks Harold why he did not tell him about that money before.
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