A younger man visits his bankrupt father, who is depressed following the collapse of his business. The son is a disappointment to the father due to his choice of career.
The father seems strong until, during their conversation, a fly enters the room, with the father overreacting in an attempt to get rid of this simple fly. This overreaction is perceived as weakness by the son, and driven by pity, he offers his father some money. Immediately the passion and vigor returns to his father, and the shrewd, cunning businessman reemerges and brutally demands to know why he had not been offered this money sooner.
What does the title mean? Firstly we should take a look at the title since it could provide some insight into why certain aspects of this story are present. ‘A fly in the ointment’ is a proverb or saying that basically means that something spoils a situation that could have been pleasant. This is shown in the short story literally by a fly which enters the room and causes such an overreaction by the old man that foreshadows text that shows that everything is not as they seem; things are not alright. Why the father is such a memorable character:
The young man, the son, is shown in the first paragraph to rather walk a distance than show up in a cab in front of his father since he thinks ‘The old man will wonder where I got the money’. This quote is the first sign that shows the reader that the old man is concerned with money. The author uses two statements to show the demise of the business, firstly ‘… building a business out of nothing, and then, after a few years of prosperity, letting it go to pieces in chafer of rumour, idleness, quarrels, accusations and, at last, bankruptcy.
‘ The sons questions whether ‘they were telling the truth when they said the old man was a crook and that his balance sheets were cooked? ‘ and then secondly, later in the story the narrator shows the son’s thoughts when he thinks the father will tell him the embarrassing truth which he already knows about, that of ‘the people you’ve swindled’. These show the father in a bad light, a cheating businessman that fixed his sheets for acknowledgement and was concerned with money and the class of men it put him with.
The father’s concern with social status is shown when he the author states ‘A small man himself, he was proud to be bankrupt with the big ones; it made him feel rich. ‘ This also foreshadows that despite the old man’s statements about having no need for money, he is still truly concerned about it, since he has a desire to feel rich. The use of foreshadowing and its role together with humor and irony There are many instances of foreshadowing, a few that have been mentioned above.
One that is apparent is the use of ‘his father had two faces. ‘ which shows the contrasting emotions the old man can show and his ability, like a businessman to show the face that will suite his end needs.
This piece of foreshadowing should show the reader the truth behind the father but instead the reader is made to believe the old man, that he no longer has need of money. In the old man’s speech to his son on the irrelevance for money he states, ‘If you came in now and offered me a thousand pounds I should laugh at you. ‘ this shows the reader that the father has outgrown his cruel, greedy ways.
The irony emerges when the son does in fact merely mention raising cash when the father, instead of refusing it, brutally demands why it had not been forthcoming. This complete ‘change of face’ (intended pun) is ironic since it goes against what the reader expects. It is almost humorous in the emergence that the father has not changed, and the reader will see the amusing side behind the fly. An actual fly foreshadows the proverb, that pleasantry will be spoiled, by the fathers demands of cash after his apparent no longer need for fiscal bounds.