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Robertson Davies' "Fifth Business" portrays the progress of a lost man, Dunstan Ramsay. A snowball thrown by Percy Staunton misses Dunstan and hits Mary Dempster, forces Dunstan to carry the responsibility of causing the premature birth of Paul and the insanity of Mary on his shoulders his entire life. Guilt follows and threatens to swallow Dunstan whole, as Dunstan struggles in his quest for his role as fifth business, Liesl enters into Dunstan's life, important for the development of Dunstan as a person. While Liesl may not be good according to society, she plays a significant role in Dunstan's development and psychological rebirth and allows Dunstan to understand his role as fifth business. The development of Dunstan's character in the novel begins when Dunstan falls in love with Faustina. But it is Liesl that allows Dunstan to understand his function as "Fifth Business.", and shows him through physicality and illogical wonders.
Liesl is an intelligent woman with a deformed body, which cautions the readers to be more concern into the many differences of beauty. Liesl appears only near the end of Fifth Business but she plays an important role in the novel and affects the end of the novel, where she brings out the conscious part of Dunstan's personality. Liesl knows that Dunstan is a hagiographer, and she praises Dunstan to draw confidences out of him, "she was a woman who could draw our confidences"(Davies, 207). With Liesl, they began to have conversations Dunstan had never have before. Dunstan is able to share some of his secrets he kept for fifth year and unload some of the burden. Though Dunstan ask Liesl not to share his secrets to anyone else, but she refuses, because one "pays a high price for secrecy" and secrecy makes him look "grim-mouthed and buttoned-up and hard-eyed and cruel, because [he is] cruel to [himself]" (Davies, 208). Dunstan learns from Liesl that his "bottled-up feelings have burst their bottle and splashed glass and acid everywhere" (Davies, 211)
Dunstan at first is in obsession with the beautiful Faustina, who he mistaken his lust for Faustina as love. The beginning of a change for Dunstan's character is when he loses his love when he walks into a dressing room where he is shocked to surprisingly find Faustina and Liesl in a lesbian embrace while having passionate kisses. Dunstan was stunned by this and is reduced to bitterness because it ended his little boy's dream of having Faustina. He tries to make sense of what he just saw, "I never knew such a collapse of the spirit even in the worst of the war. And this time there was no Little Madonna to offer me courage or ease me into oblivion." (Davies, 211) Dunstan finds himself in rage because his morals gets twisted when he saw Faustina and Liesl, but he is quickly confronted by Liesl. Liesl replaces the Little Madonna, and she starts to console Dunstan in her own ways. Liesl questions Dunstan, asking him why, if he loves Faustina so much, he never gives her anything? "That is you privilege, watching life from the sidelines and knowing were all the players go wrong. Life is a spectator sport to you. Now you have taken a tumble and found yourself in the middle of the fight, and you are whimpering because it is rough." (Davies, 212) After Liesl was done talking to Dunstan, Dunstan has a fistfight with Liesl, which leads to having a great burden being lifted off of Dunstan and he gains courage and further develops his character.
After Liesl timidly reenters Dunstan's bedroom later that night, the two talk for hours.
Dunstan finally understands from Liesl that with all the guilt he carries with him throughout his life, he is "not very human." "I wanted to tell you that you are human, like other people...You make yourself responsible for other peoples troubles." (Davies, 216) "But every man has a devil, and a man of unusual quality, like yourself, Ramsay, has an unusual devil. You must get to know your personal devil." (Davies, 217). Liesl poses the question, "Who are you? Where you you fit into poetry and myth? Do you know who I think you are, Ramsay? I think you are Fifth Business," the one who knows the secret of the hero's birth and whose career often outlasts the golden voices (Davies, 217). At the end, Liesl and Dunstan fall asleep happily after they make love, "With such a gargoyle! And yet never have I known such deep delight or such an aftermath of healing tenderness!" (Davies, 218). Dunstan then finds his morals back because of Liesl. With Liesl telling Dunstan the truth about life and on his role as a fifth business, it causes Dunstan to fill his emotional emptiness. This results in letting Dunstan finish his role by bringing Boy and Paul together and concluding their story.
Liesl has shown to play an important role in the novel because she helped Dunstan to develop into his character at the end and he was able to conclude the story of Boy and Paul. Dunstan leads a double life that seems to be outwardly ordinary and normal. It is Liesl that makes Dunstan realize his flaws, and it is Liesl that gives him the initial push which ultimately helps finally complete his journey to search his inner self. As a result, Dunstan was quickly pointed out to his problems, and given a little nudge in the right direction of his fate as his character, and becomes "Fifth Business". Thus making Liesl's job complete because as a result of Liesl bringing forth these truth's about life, it brought Dunstan to the last stage of his characters development. Even though Dunstan's character development bean with Faustina, this also shows that Dunstan plays a vital role in bringing forth the characters repressed guilt that brings Boy's death as well as the end of the novel.