5th Business Analysis

Topics: The Manticore, Robertson Davies, Fifth Business Pages: 10 (5598 words) Published: November 18, 2014
Analysis (1)
Fifth Business is so intriguing in large part because it synthesizes a romanticized coming-of-age story with a more mythical undercurrent. From the very beginning, one senses a gravity to the work that is belied by the otherwise realistic descriptions of what Dunstan calls "village life" (16). This unique approach is all centered around Dunstan, who as a narrator is possessed not only of intelligence and sensitivity, but also of self-awareness. The basic premise of the narration - that Dunstan is offended to have been written off as ordinary in the school newspaper article - underlines a central message of the novel: even the 'ordinary' possesses a strong undercurrent of mystery and magic. What is important is the willingness to look for and notice this undercurrent. It is interesting that the fateful snowball incident of Dunstan’s childhood provides the nucleus of his entire life. In effect, what could have been just another moment in Deptford life possesses an amazing centrality because of the way Dunstan views his life. The plot progresses from this event, in such a way that the moment gains more layers of meaning and relevance as the story continues. In fact, this part of the book is structurally unique from the rest of the Deptford trilogy. The snowball incident is introduced even before our protagonist, suggesting that the individual is not necessarily the center of the universe. Instead, this moment becomes the impetus, since it is more powerful than the people involved in it. This idea - of forces and patterns beyond our superficial sight - is more fully developed as the novel continues. In Part 1, these type of patterns are most notable through the contrast with Deptford. Since Davies considered this book the first of his Deptford Trilogy, he clearly saw the town as central to the thematic content. Deptford is a town reminiscent of a Puritan Salem Massachusetts. Pregnant women are discouraged from being seen in public, Mrs. Dempster is considered too kind to be a minister’s wife, and the town has no less than five churches for a town of five hundred people. It is a place defined by social stricture, by firm expectations about behavior, and by a strong pretense of punishment and sin. The contrast between Amasa Dempster and Mary Dempster elucidates the point. Amasa is a stern man who lacks imagination and curiosity. His only warmth comes from his doting affection towards his wife, which is criticized amongst Deptford society and which he later ceases to show. His patronizing cruelty towards Dunstan is nothing compared to that which he uses towards his wife, blaming her explicitly for Paul's premature birth, and later tying her up in his home. Mrs. Dempster, on the other hand, is so unique not because of a complex personality, but precisely because of her simplicity. In effect, she is the archetype of saintliness that Dunstan spends his life exploring. Her goodness is all the more affecting because it is simple, unqualified, and innate. And yet Deptford has no vocabulary to understand such a powerful presence. Even her virtues are resented, since people have no way to categorize such natural kindness. Her gift-giving is derided, her positivity is dismissed as idiocy, and she is entirely ostracized after the encounter with the hobo. In the same way that Dunstan gets in trouble for reading about saints and performing magic, Deptford has no use for those parts of life. Instead, Deptford is obsessed with the superficial, which is clearest in the hobo moment. That moment is central to Dunstan's development, for several reasons. First, he sees something beautiful in it. Notice his description of the scene; it is infused with a sense of tenderness and mercy, not judgment. Further, it is important because Mrs. Dempster has in effect merged the sacred and profane. Having no sexual experience with women (and being much in love with Mrs. Dempster himself), Dunstan is overcome with the sight of the sexual act, and...
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