Boy and Dunstan are characters who have been twice-born. Compare and contrast these characters, and how they transform their identities.What motivates these characters to re-invent themselves? Do...

Boy and Dunstan are characters who have been twice-born. Compare and contrast these characters, and how they transform their identities.

What motivates these characters to re-invent themselves? Do their new identities help these characters reach self-actualization?

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ssengupta eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I want to answer this question from a very personal point of view. Robertson Davies was my professor in the University of Toronto in 1969-70, the year The Fifth Business was published. In those days, while discussing with him my doctoral dissertation on the first English actress on the London stage, Moll Flanders in the 1660s, I heard him speak constantly about his impending novel. Yes, we did speak to him about Boy and Dunstan as the "two most complete characters" he had ever portrayed.

When the novel came out from Macmillan, a publishing house I used to read manuscripts for, I was invited by Professor Davies to the innauguration in Macmillan! Now, at age 63, I still remember those days vividly.

As Roberston Davies once said to me, The Fifth Business was written as a comment on the so-called "spiritual" influence that pseudo-escetics like Maharishi Mahesh Yogi or the Reverend Sung Yung Moon had in those those days on North American hippies, or "flower children," as Davies mockingly referrred to them. "The west has always been an especially materialitic society, with all their protesttations about Christianity," Professor Davies once remarked in our doctoral seminar, laughing jovially. "We need to understand how the west understands spirituality, not the east!" That is why, he said, he wrote this novel that was to be published by the following year.

I believe that the received critical opinion on the novel is that it is a "morality play" between materialism and spirituality. The title comes from "fifth business," refering to a side character of a play who does not have much importance to the play, yet has significant importance to the way it turns out.

Boy and Dunstan are obviously the most important characters: Dunstan because the novel is about him, and Boy Staunton because he was his closest friend and confidant.

Dunston it seems to me is a David Copperfield like character, not in terms of personality or action, but the way he grows through the novel, through many friendships and relationships -- just like David -- and toward the end comes to a certain conclusions about the practicality and pragmaticness of life. His friend, Boy Staunton, a puzzling comixture of romanticism and ruthlessness, befriends him and sets him up for life; but through his death -- suicide or murder? -- he also destroys him. He himsel has a heart attack when he hears he is being thought of as his friend's murderer.

We had asked Davies whether Boy and Dunstan represented different facets of materialism: while Boy Staunton was a successful entrepreneur, businessman and unsuccessful politician, he still had some "vision" about Canada's future. Dunstan, on the other hand, though a school teacher, an author of saints' biographies, he too eschewed spiritualism as we usually think of the term. He was also a realist, almost burdened down by it. He recognizes talent and uniqueness in people, as he did in Staunton or Mrs. Dempster, but was too far gone by selfish motives to do right by people when he recognized that it would be right to do so. Davies had agreed enthusiastically.

They were both "twice-born," out of life's accidents. When, did the second births of these characters happen? With Staunton, it was possible after his wife's death, aftr he goes away after the death of his life. Dunstan's might have happened right when the stone hits Mrs. Dempster and he feels himself responsible for it.

The motivation in each case is the same: redress.

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Fifth Business

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