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The role of women in the novel Fifth Business is essential and fundamental to the character development and spiritual meaning that Dunny seeks throughout the novel and whether they shape and influence his life in a positive or negative way. Dunny remains in the background essential to the action but not a principal, interlaced in a thread of numerous subplots and themes. Dunny peruses his passion for hagiology which sets him on a journey of discovery through a path of materialism and spirituality plagued by his consistent guilt which carries an underlined theme throughout the novel. The importance of women is consistent throughout the novel since his upbringing in the town Depthford onwards and we will see these women sculpting, damaging or setting him free. The roles of the women will be analyzed through the view of Dunny and how they contributed to his development. The novel Fifth Business which is written by Robert Davies and although they are entirely unalike in character similar experiences enclosed in a fictional reworking of arrangements and situations are consistent with the life of Robert Davies specifically with a similar childhood in a small town in Ontario which give you an account of his thoughts, emotions and experiences in a deeper sense.
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First, Dunny’s mother is a determined and controlling person with a strong and strict Calvinist belief who raises Dunny accordingly which fits her role as a protecting and loving mother who likes to help others, until their situation drastically changes when the focus of her love changes and isolation coupled with resentment builds after the snowball incident with the Dempster’s family. This is evident, when Dunny states “I began to believe that I was more responsible for the birth of Paul Dempster than were his parents, […]. Part of that dreadful fate would undoubtedly be rejection by my mother” (Davies 17). Undeniably, his mother’s love and focus begins to change attention towards the Dempster’s family instead of her own household which initiates Dunny’s feeling of isolation and begins to feel resentment for his mother who is unable to provide consolation for his adolescent heart. Furthermore, Dunny’s mother continues the passage of isolation and it is particularly felt when Dunny responds “Being unofficial watchdog to the Dempsters family was often a nuisance to me and did nothing for my popularity” (Davies 22). Obviously, the feeling of isolation is felt by Dunny and it affects his social life with his friends and himself as a person in the future. Next, Dunny’s mother imposes fear on his juvenile youth and the resentment for his mother arguably evolves to hate when he is severely beaten by his mother and replies “I have been very miserable since-miserable not for an hour but for months on end-but I can still feel that hour’s misery in its perfect desolation, if I am fool enough to call it up in my mind” (Davies 29). Consequently, this incident causes an atmosphere of tension throughout the rest of the novel whenever Dunny’s mother is mentioned and he instead turns his attention and love towards Mrs. Dempster. In the long run, Dunny’s mother is responsible for his deep isolation, his stance on women, and the insecurities around them which boundaries his feelings and emotions throughout his life and does anything only through obligation and nothing out of desire for himself which is the reason for his life being miserable and despiteful leaving him unable to form lasting relationships with women and relatively unattached to his mother and women in general.
Second, Mary Demspter is considered Dunny’s first love and a simple women and more so after the incident with the snowball which is the reason Dunny carries the plague of guilt with him throughout the novel but in essence the guilt remains with himself alone which is a weak cause to hold it against Mary and claim it as her role for she is not the reason it occurred. On the contrary, with that established let us not overlook that Mary plays arguable one of the most vital roles in the novel as Dunny’s inspiration for the path of mythology, saints and longing for knowledge and inner spirituality. This begins, with the second miracle when Mary has supposedly raised Willie from his deathbed and Dunny’s response to himself is “For me, Willie’s recall from death is, and will always be, Mrs. Dempster’s second miracle” (Davies 57). Undeniably, to Dunny this is seen as a complete miracle whether anyone believes him or not and will commence his journey of mythology and validating Mary as a saint. Furthermore, is apparent with the first miracle that occurs but is not known until later when Dunny reencounters Joel Surgeoner and discuses the miracle with him and Joel acknowledges, “He worked through that women, and she is a blessed saint, for what she did for me-I mean it as I say it-was a miracle” (Davies 135). Clearly, this acceptance of Mary as a saint without a doubt in the eyes of Joel who is forever changed since that night leaves a strong impression on Dunny and motivates him in continuing his direction in the path of mythology and to comprehend the complications and serious possibilities of Mary being a saint. In addition, the third and last miracle is during the war when Dunny is about to lose consciousness and during this time has visions of Mary and her being the Madonna statue but does not fully acknowledge it till later in the novel when he contemplates to himself that, “[H]er miraculous appearance to me when I was at the uttermost end of my endurance at Passchendaele” (Davies 161). Without doubt, Dunny is talking within the context of the 3 miracles and confirms to himself that the vision of Mary was the third and final miracle and might be all the proof that he needs to convince himself that it is so but his conviction also plays a destructive influence yet on the other hand brings him academic and personal growth and pleasure. On the whole, Mary plays a critical role providing the three miracles that occur and essentially changes his life profoundly while recognizing her as wholly religious and his experience with her offers him a greater insight about the nature of a life lived with the knowledge of the presence of the mythic world in the actual world and reassures his childhood interest in mythology and saints to come to the forefront of his life and career.
Third, Diana Marfleet plays a significant role in the novel as his first meaningful and realistic love but more importantly gently guides him in his self-transformation with the change of his name and being with her made him realize what he really wanted in life and she helped him mentally with the damage that his mother has caused. Plainly, it is clear when his self-transformation begins as Diana is taking care of him and he receives the news of death of his family during the war due to the influenza epidemic of early 1918 and Dunny’s remark to himself was, “It was years before I thought of the death of my parents as anything other than a relief; in my thirties I was able to see them as real people” (Davies 78). It seems that Dunny is finally able to escape his mother even though it was through death it was something he has been longing for and finds great freedom in it while finding closure at the same time during the care of Diana. Also, Dunny’s time with Diana helps his figure out what he wants to do with his life now that he is physically and mentally able with the care of Diana by his side and the freedom he has just received. Distinctly, being with Diana has made him think about himself for once in life and made him realize that he loves Diana but is not in love with her and that is when Dunny mentions to himself “That decision, made at that time, has shaped my life and doubtless in some ways it has warped it, but I still think I knew what was best for me. In the long periods of rest in the hospital I thought as carefully as I could about my situation” (Davies 85). Certainly, he is referring to the decision he has made with Diana and how things would not work out between them in the future because she is too similar to his mother which he just got rid of and does not want another. Moreover, to complete his transformation she decides that he should change his name to Dunny which mentally gives him the psychological push to complete and realize his transformation into a new person when his reply was “I liked the idea of a new name; it suggested new freedom and new personality” (Davies 90). Unmistakably, Dunny has taken a liking to his new name which was changed from Dunstable to Dunny and enjoys the freedom and the possibilities that it holds and he remains grateful for what she has made him realize and done for him which no other women has so far. To sum up, it is ironic that consequently Diana who was the one to sever the link between Dunny and his mother by renaming him does not end up marring him and more so because his mothers full name was Fiona Dunstable Ramsay. Nevertheless, his relationship and time with Diana has matured him and broaden his scope of life, understanding and culminated in his rebirth and renaming.
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In conclusion, the role of women have been extensive and necessary throughout the novel and has matured and turned Dunny into the man he is today although his mother has been the root of the problems in his life the majority of the women have been a positive influence on Dunny and will forever change his outlook on women and life. Dunny has remained and fulfilled his role as Fifth Business by bringing resolution or meaning to the story or merely by observing or explaining it. Throughout the novel he was always the odd man out and continually searching for meaning and significance in life whether it be from his mother who molded him during his childhood, Mary who gave him a lasting connection with the mythology, magic, and the inner spirituality of one self and life or Diana who gracefully opens and heals his heart and mind regarding women and himself again. Ultimately it is an incredible quest for knowledge and happiness which he has finally found even though it was a long and tiring journey with many sacrifices.
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