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The Fly in the Ointment

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Faatimah Shaikh

on 1 November 2013

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Transcript of The Fly in the Ointment

The Fly in the Ointment
-V.S. PRITCHETT (1932)

In the midst of an economic turmoil where money is scarce and funds are limited, a low paid lecturer named Harold visits his father at his factory. The economic depression has taken its toll on the father’s business, despite being in service for thirty years, and the liquidators have done nothing more than clean the factory of anything they deem worth money. The father’s reaction to his son’s visit is one of initial surprise, but Harold does nothing more than express his commitment to sympathize with his father in this time of hardship. We soon learn that, in fact, the father despises his son because of his job status since he is “low paid,” and that the father and son’s relationship is strained - primarily due to money. However the father’s early display of modesty and humbleness towards the prospect of money and his freedom from the burden of it is halted when a fly interrupts the conversation between the two family members. Yet afterward when the fly has escaped, the conversation turns towards Harold offering to raise money in order to aid his father, and it is ultimately shown that the old man is still money-hungry as he was when the turbulent relationship started, a contrast to the man in the beginning of the story where he expressed happiness at the concept of freedom from money and not needing it. The story ultimately ends with the now dominant father berating Harold for not pitching the idea of raising money earlier, and demanding an explanation as to how raising money can be accomplished, showing that the father has not changed at all.
Character list
Although other characters are made a reference to, the primary characters are as follows:

Harold’s father

Minor characters

Harold’s wife, Alice (mentioned)

Character Analysis

Son of a factory owner.
Low-paid lecturer at a provincial university.
Has a turbulent relationship with father.
Appears to be compassionate and loyal (shown at the end when he says he will attempt to raise money for his father).
Down to earth , compassionate and generous.

1. The story is set on a November afternoon during a time of severe money struggles that is causing various companies and factories to close their doors and give up their assets. Unemployed men, beggars and more are bleak and lifeless as they wander around the streets mindlessly, disappearing and reappearing as if they were on an inner, personal route. The time is of great depression and little hope.

2. The factory in which the characters interact in was once in fact a prosperous company, though now it is empty, with dust lining the shelves and the marks of the showroom cupboards on the floor. The machines that were once there, humming and throbbing with life, is now nothing but an echo. This sets a sad and sombre mood.

1. Summary
2. Character list
3. Character analysis
4. Setting
5. Plot
6. Plot Diagram
7. Theme
8. Title
9. Summation
10. Possible Questions
11. List of sources

The Father

Used to be a factory owner for 30 years.
Turbulent relationship with son (the likely reason is money).
One face is humble, apologetic, almost philosophical in the sense that he no longer craves money.
The other is power/money-hungry.
The difference is the sun and moon, because in a way, he wants the best for son, but is also critical of son’s life choices.

Introduction: The taxi ride to the factory, where we are introduced to the past quarrels between the father and son, as well as the present issue and reason of why Harold was now visiting his father.

Rising Action: When Harold begins his journey by meeting his depleted father, as well as their conversation after they are reunited and the interruption of the fly.

Climax: When the reader’s realize that the father’s character and perspective on money had not changed. Towards the end, a line states the father’s urge for money however, just few moments back he was assuring his son and somewhat himself that he wanted to live a life without money - "The little face suddenly became dominant within the outer folds of skin like a fox looking out of a hole of clay."
Falling Action: The conversation leading up to the point where Harold brings up ‘raising money.’ "He leaned forward on the table and somehow a silver-topped pencil was in his hand preparing to note something briskly on a writing pad."

Resolution: When the father demands Harold to tell him how to raise money.
Plot Diagram
The story has been set in a time of a great economic turmoil, and in the midst of this situation, the characters of Harold and his father are developed through the setting by their actions and reactions regarding the difficult situation. And through this, the theme is demonstrated; which is as follows:

Although money is necessary for a family to thrive, it also strains their relationship, as when money becomes an obsession to someone, they lose sight of what is important.

‘The Fly in the Ointment’ is an idiomatic expression that means “something that destroys something else” - which in this case, is the father and the son’s relationship. The money is ultimately the ‘fly’ that spoils the ‘ointment’ of the father and son’s relationship.
Complete the rhetorical triangle on your worksheet. Whoever feels confident, come up to the board and write one of the aspects.
The two characters in this story are primarily the father and son, both of which have a strained relationship with one another.
The focus of the story is to show, not only the dysfunctional relationship between the father and the son regarding money, but also the destructive nature of the very thing that is necessary to get through life.
The fly in the story acts as a metaphor for the father’s inability to capture his lust for money, much like his inability to capture the fly.
The theme is - Although money is necessary for a family to thrive, it is also strains their relationship, as when money becomes an obsession to someone, they lose sight of what is important.
The theme is developed by the setting and characters. While the characters are developed through the setting.
The setting is in a time of great economic turmoil (and it is through this setting that we discover the father’s attitude and the character’s reactions regarding the situation.)
The title is an idiomatic expression meaning “something that destroys something else.”
The introduction is the taxi ride to the factory and the rising action is the conversation between the father and son until the fly disturbs them. The climax of the story is when the realization that the father hasn’t changed dawns on us. The falling action is short and the resolution is when the father demands an explanation of how to raise money from his son.
The son is compassionate and loyal while the father is two-faced and money-hungry.


Possible Questions

Does the author want us to stop and think about what we are reading? Is he controlling the reading? If so, how?

How does the setting of the story affect the actions and reactions of the characters as well as influence their characteristics/traits?

Why did the author choose to leave the story as he did?

Why did the author omit naming the father?


A fly in the ointment. (n.d.). Retrieved October 9, 2013, from The free dictionary website: http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/a+fly+in+the+ointment

Liukkonen, P., & Kaupunginkirjasto, A. P. K. (2008). V(ictor) S(awdon) Pritchett (1900-1997). Retrieved October 9, 2013, from http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/pritch.htm


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