Adversity is the most important factor in shaping character and/or identity. Assess the validity of this statement with reference to Fifth Business. Identity is individual characteristics by which a person is known or recognized. In Fifth Business, a character’s reaction to adversity is the foundation to shaping identity. Others may not know what the adversity is but they observe the way a person is acting. The composure held in rough situations allows people to formulate opinions based on these reactions.
This is shown through the challenges of dealing with guilt, trying to achieve being better than others and trying to escape their past identities. A main adversity faced in Fifth Business is guilt. The guilt that the characters Dunstan and Boy feel mainly revolve around the snowball incident with Mrs. Mary Dempster. Everybody had heard about the snowball incident however only Dunstan and Boy knew the truth about who threw the snowball. Although Dunstan was truly not at fault he felt responsible because the snowball was meant for him.
His mother then began making him invest time into caring for the Dempster’s and he did it without protest because he felt he need to make the situation right. “We knew your Ma must have sent you. She couldn’t do anything publicly, of course, but she sent you to look after them. Everybody knew an’ honoured her for it. ” (p99) The people saw that his mother and his actions were honourable. As Dunstan ages, people’s perception of his dealings with Mary Dempster changes and his link to her makes him seem queer.
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Eventually even his mother was upset with Dunstan’s obsession with Mrs. Dempster. She was very upset that Dunstan would bring this woman into their home. “What under Heaven had possessed [Dunstan] to turn to that woman, not only to their home but to the very beside of a boy who was dangerously ill? ” (p55) Then, Dunstan had “insisted that Willie had indeed died. No pulse; no breathing. ” (p. 55) He had expressed how he felt about Willie’s “death” and was disregarded by people telling him to let it go.
Dr. McClausland says to Dunstan “I think you may safely leave it to me to say when peopled are dead, Dunny. ” (p55) Milo Papple even says “Do you remember when you said that Mrs. Dempster raised Willie from the dead? God, you used to be a crazy kid... “ (p99) He continued on to find 2 more miracles by Mary Dempster. This revelation guided him to begin studying saints and in turn his reputation was jeopardized. “It’s this saint business of yours. Of course your books are splendid. But if you were a father would you want to send your son a school headed by an authority on saints? (p187) That is what Boy had said to Dunstan regarding why he was being let go from being Headmaster.
Alternatively, Boy’s key role in making Mrs. Dempster simple forced a different reaction from him. Boy as a kid chose to ignore the fact that it was his fault. Dunstan views him as a coward and ruthless. “I knew that he was afraid, and I knew also that he would fight, lie, do anything rather than admit what I knew. ” (p17) He spends so much energy on pushing the situation out of his mind that by the time he is older, he has no recollection of her all together. [Dunstan] could hardly believe he spoke the truth, but as we talked on I had to accept it as a fact that he had so far edited his memory of his early days that the incident of the snowball had quite vanished from his mind. ” (p251)
Boy’s indifference to the situation benefited him in a sense that because he knew that if he acted like he had no connection with Mrs. Dempster that his identity would not be compromised. The reactions from Dunstan and Boy are almost completely opposite and so people viewed them differently. Paul Dempster also treated his guilt differently than the other two.
As Paul Dempster he ran away from home and people saw this as something that was prone to happen because his mother was simple. Although they did not recognize that it was because “[his] father thought it was his duty to tell [Paul], so [he] could do whatever possible to make it up to her. ” (p251) As he created a new persona for himself he also found a new way to cope with his guilt by sending her money and Dunstan “was able to transfer Mrs. Dempster from the public wards of that hateful city asylum to a much better hospital near a small town. (p220) This shows that he is a good person and with success he still holds composure.
Another challenge in the novel involved trying to be better than others. Boy Staunton was the golden boy from Deptford. He was always very successful and recognized. During the first war he became an officer and “was wearing a few medals, the admirable D. S. O. but otherwise minor things. ” (p93) Boy went on to pursue a very successful career in the sugar business. As well, he struggled to pursue a career in politics although unsuccessful he did later become Lieutenant Governor. Old Doc Staunton’s annoyance at being outsmarted by his son had given way to his cupidity.. ” (p142)
All his successes sprung out of wanting to be better than his peers and his father and he succeeded. Another part of his image involves Leola being as educated and cultured as she possibly can. “She had learned to curtsy very prettily... and do other courtier things required by Boy. ” (p119) Yet still he still faced the challenge of her not being able to keep up. “She was trying hard but she could not keep with Boy’s social advancement. (p143) People see Boy as the golden Boy and Magnus Eisengrim even says “I remember you very well. I always thought of you as the Rich Young Ruler. ” (p249) In the end, he took the challenge of being more successful and dominated it and in the end he was known and respected. “[Denyse] did achieve a very fine turnout of important people, and others who were important because they represented somebody important. ” (p243)
This refers to Boy’s funeral and this shows how he had finished his life as a successful man. Paul was constantly teased by kids because they would say things like “’Hey Paul, does your Ma wear pants? and stuff like that. ” (p99) Milo Papple tells Dunstan that Paul ran away with the circus and “it made him kind of a hero after he’d gone. ” (p99) He became a very successful magician and people thought he was magnificent. They never knew that his success came from him trying to erase the image of him being simple Mary Dempster’s son because “[he] could call up in an instant what it felt like to be the child of a woman everybody jeered at and thought a dirty joke” (p 251) Paul had to get away to ensure that he made a better name for himself.
Their success is attributed to their obstacle to be better than others. Lastly, the challenge of separating their past identities also shapes their current identities. The three central characters use a name change to represent their new identities. They try to change the person they are and in turn people do view that as different people. Dunstan was originally named Dunstable Ramsay but after the war he met a Diana, a nurse whom he had his first real relationship with, who decided to change his name. Diana said “it’s hard to say for one thing and it sounds like a cart running over cobblestones for another.
You’ll never get anywhere in the world named Dumbledum Ramsay. ” (p85) She felt that his name didn’t represent the successful person that he could be with a better name. Diana said that he represented the Saint Dunstan in many ways because “St. Dunstan was a marvellous person and very much like [Dunstan] – mad about learning, terribly stiff and stern and scowly, and an absolute wizard at withstanding temptation. ” (p85) He likes this persona of himself and “the idea of a new name; it suggested new freedom and personality. (p86) Boy Staunton, formerly known as Percy Boyd Staunton also changed his name.
Somewhere along his army career decided that Boy Staunton was a name more fit for him. The name Boy represents the stellar and young gentlemen that he is. “He was boy Staunton because he summed up in himself so much of the glory of youth in the postwar period. ” (p102) His name shows his success in his glorified youth. “He seemed to have made himself out of nothing, and he was a marvel. ” (p103) Another name change that denotes an air of eloquence is Paul Dempster’s name change to Magnus Eisengrim.
As Paul Dempster he had many misfortunes and zero success. As Magnus Eisengrim he has a wonderful show that awes the public. He says “My name is Magnus Eisengrim that is who I am and that is how the world knows me. ” (p249) His reaction to escaping his past identity when he changed his name “he did not present himself as a funny-man but as one who offered an entertainment of mystery and beauty, with perhaps a hint of terror as well. ” (p192) Dunstan had it right when he said “[they] had all rejected [their] beginnings and became something that their parents could not have forseen. (p252)
The characters past identities did not satisfy how they viewed themselves and their challenge to erase who they were allowed them to create a new name that characterized a new identity. The characters in Fifth Business shape identities when they react to adversities. The way they are recognized is due to the actions they take to face these challenges. The most prominent challenges in Roberson Davis’ novel are the challenge of a guilty conscience, being better than others and escaping past identities. People react to one adversity differently and a good or bad identity depends on their reactions.
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