Fifth Business - Guilt Essay

Fifth Business: The consequences of guilt All actions have consequences. Sometimes one does not have to participate in the action, but only be related, and the crime committed can have serious consequences for everyone. The consequence, or lack of consequence, is determined by one’s upbringing. This is clearly the case present in Robertston Davies’ Fifth Business. Although Boy committed the crime, Dunstan feels a profound sense of guilt about the snowball incident. On the other hand, Boy obliterates his guilt.

Guilt and lack of guilt can clearly be seen through character’s lives, relationships and philosophies. The guilt felt by Dunstan altered the way he lives through his complete devotion for Mary Dempster. Dunstan’s guilt is the result of his religious upbringing. This guilt is caused by Percy Boyd Staunton when he throws the snowball that hits Mrs Dempster, resulting in her madness and Paul’s premature birth. Dunstan takes it upon himself to be the bearer of the guilt and feels responsible for the Dempster’s misery.

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Because of this burden of guilt, he commits his life to Mary Dempster. Dunstan handles the Dempster’s chores and cares for Mary and her son, Paul. By understanding Mrs Dempster, it no longer becames a moral obligation to care for her but a deep sense of commitment that he placed on himself through his meetings with Mrs Dempster. Dunstan’s escape out of Deptford through the army, may have allowed him to temporarily leave his guilt behind, but Dunstan’s guilt still remains.

He sees the face of Mary Dempster during his time of pain in war, through the statue of the Immaculate Conception, showing the guilt that he still holds onto dearly. After returning to Deptford, Dunstan commits himself to the care of Mrs Dempster again, “I visited Mrs. Dempster forty Saturdays every year and at Easter, Christmas and on her birthday in addition,” (Davies 182). Evidently, his guilt still lingers. Dunstan fulfills his commitment by caring for Mrs Dempster until her death, “The following day I sat quite above in the crematory chapel as Mary Dempster’s body went through the doors, into the flames.

After all, who else remembered her? ” (Davies 251). Dunstan’s lifelong commitment to Mary Dempster shows the consummation of the guilt that Dunstan feels even during his old age. Liesl reveals to Dunstan that by living a life of guilt, he is missing out on a part of his life, “But you – there is a whole great piece of your life that is unlived, denied, set aside,” (Davies 229). From this point on Dunstan understands that he has to live for himself, instead of living for others.

When he meets Liesl, Dunstan is able to live a full life; understanding the purpose of his life and fulfilling it. Dunstan’s guilt makes him live in devotion to Mary Dempster, and he later learns that he has to live a life for himself. On the contrary, Boy’s guilt cannot be seen and Boy shows no remorse for his actions. Unlike Dunstan, Boy does not have any religious upbringing and certainly has a very low moral integrity. This is shown by Dunstan’s confrontation about the snowball incident where Boy denies his faults.

After Dunny confronts him, he says, “You bet it’s what I think…And it’s what you’d better think too, if you know what’s good for you” (Davies 16). Boy’s immature behaviour to not take responsibility for his actions leads to a path where he is successful, but feels unfulfilled inside. Similar to Dunstan’s commitment to caring for Mrs Dempster, Boy also commits his life to external greatness. He becomes something that he is not, but something that others expect him to be.

Boy begins his adulthood by being everything one wants to be: having a good appearance, an immeasurable amount of wealth, and the charisma that can attract anyone. “It was characteristic of Boy throughout his life that he was always the quintessence of something that somebody else had recognized and defined” (Davies 113). He believes that he is in control of every situation, but inside he cannot control his guilt that is still buried deep inside himself. Contrary to Dunstan who feels responsible for problems, Boy runs away from his problems by keeping himself busy.

The death of Leola, his wife, clearly shows Boy’s fear of facing problems, for his does not show up for her funeral, “Boy was in England, arranging something or other connected with his Ministry, and duty and the difficulty of transatlantic flights in wartime kept him there”(Davies 194). Boy still yearns for fulfillment even though he achieves greatness in terms of his financial success and his outward appearance. He says, “I feel rotten. I’ve done just about everything I’ve ever planned to do and everybody thinks I’m a success… But sometimes I wish I could get into a car and drive away from the whole damned thing. (Davies). Boy knows that deep inside he is very unsuccessful. As he gets older, he is supposed to be wiser, but his commitment to achieving the external greatness has stopped him from being fully satisfied. There is an immense difference in the lives of Boy and Dunstan. Boy’s focus on his external being causes him live an unfulfilled life, like a ‘boy’ who cannot see that there is more to life than wealth and popularity. The relationship that Dunstan has with the people in his past life begins to slowly fall apart due to the guilt he has for Mary Dempster.

Dunstan begins to love Mary Dempster up to point where he finds it strange that, “Mrs Dempster was beginning to fill my whole life, and the stranger her conduct became, and the more the village pitied and dismissed her, the worse my obsession grew”(Davies 23). Dunstan places all his attention onto Mrs. Dempster. He begins to see another side of religion that the townspeople could not act upon, “She knew she was in disgrace with the world, but did not feel disgraced; she knew she was jeered at, but felt no humiliation. She lived by a light that arose from within” (Davies 47).

Dunstan has a sense of comfort in Mary and he begins to admire her. Through his undying love for Mary Dempster, Dunstan’s relationship with his classmates begins to slowly disappear because he feels that it is necessary to defend Mary Dempster’s dignity, “Loving her, I had to defend her, and when people said she was crazy I had to force myself to tell them they were crazy themselves” (Davies 24). Dunstan then admits, “This increased my sense of isolation – of being forced out of the world I belonged to into the strange and unchancy world of the Dempsters” (Davies 23).

Dunstan’s relationship with his mom also breaks apart through his relationship with Mary. His mother demands Dunstan to make a choice between Mary Dempster and herself. Instead of choosing, decides to go to war. The guilt that Dunstan experiences causes Dunstan’s relationships to fall apart slowly, but this helps Dunstan further on in his life. As he isolates himself from the people of the past, he meets new people who help him realize his role in life. Similar to the effects of Dunstan’s failing relationships, Boy’s concealment of guilt causes him to have relationships that are based on lies.

Boy has no respect for Leola or her feelings and abuses her love for him. He does this by trying to change everything about her, “He was educating Leola, and as I saw them pretty regularly I was able to estimate his success. He wanted to make her into the perfect wife for a rising young entrepreneur” (Davies 124). Boy’s demand for Leola to change reflects Boy’s need to change in order for him to feel accepted in society, “he needed a wife who could help him to graduate from a cherub to a full-fledge angel, and as soon as possible to an archangel”(Davies 125). Boy does not allow Leola to speak her mind because inside Boy also feels that he s bounded by the expectation of the world and wants to be himself instead of the person he turned out to be. Leola reminds Boy of his imperfections and the guilt that still remains inside of him. For this reason Boy knows that he has to escape this relationship in order to feel worthy. The marriage of Boy and Leola ends when Boy leaves Leola for his business ventures. He rarely visits her and he does not attend her funeral. Boy then begins another relationship with Denyse Hornick, a politician, and Dunstan begins to see another side of Boy. Boy is at the mercy of Denyse when he falls in love with her.

Denyse manipulates Boy in order for her to have more support as a social activist. She sees that Boy has the potential to become Lieutenant-Governor, and she uses this to her advantage. Through this relationship Boy does not understand himself because Boy’s true nature is buried away when he erases and forgets the guilt that he has and the responsibility comes with it. The failure of both of Boy’s relationships results in the death of Boy himself. He runs away from a situation he is not in control of, and this shows the lasting effect of Boy’s reaction to his guilt. Work Cited Davies, Robertson. Fifth Business.


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