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Characters of the Novel
Dunstan He is the protagonist of the novel. He values spiritual things and tries to discover the inner good in everyone. He leaves a lot of things in his life up to chance, as he never really gains control over his life. He is just "Fifth Business" of everyone else in the world as he so discovers in the end.
Percy Percy provides the novel with the perfect parallel to Dunstan. He does, however, contrast in many ways to Dunstan. They are best friends, but Percy rivalry results in the formation of the main setting of the novel. Percy also feels more of an attachment to material goods than Dunstan does. He thinks only of himself and is in constant pursuit of total and utter control. Percy was low moral standards in comparison to Dunstan and in some ways, feels he is of a higher stature than other human beings. This awkward relationship between him and Dunstan forms the basis of the novel.
Leola She is the girl in the novel who is fought over by both Percy and Dunstan. At different points in the novel, she is involved with relationships with both of the two men. They ways in which she is treated by the two men is reminiscent of their moral views. She gets married to Percy, but it doesn't last as Percy has many affairs as he cannot make the commitment to her. Leola dies and Percy doesn't even come to her funeral, further representing just what their relationship lacked.
Diana She is the girl whom Dunstan refuses to marry. She becomes too much like a mother to him, and as he lost his own mother, he is not in a hurry to acquire another.
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Mary Dempster She is an innocent lady that gets hit by a snowball that Percy throws at Dunstan and goes into labour on the sidewalk because of it. Her son is born sick, but she never regains her wits again. This incident represents the result of the rivalry that exists between Percy and Dunstan.
Paul He is the child of Mary who is helped throughout the novel by Dunstan.
Mr. Dempster He is the Minister who forbids Dunstan to come near Paul when he sees him showing Paul card tricks. This represents the struggle that Dunstan faces between religion and his own wants and needs.
The main conflict in this novel exists between Percy and Dunstan. It is an odd conflict as the two are best friends and like the same things, but they are so different in personality that a subtle rivalry erupts between the two of them. This leads to the destruction of Mary Dempster's life. Dunstan holds spirituality and inner beauty near and dear to him, while Percy values material goods and the pleasure of a good time. Percy likes to have control over everything, while Dunstan doesn't seem to care that he has never and will never have control over anything in his life. Dunstan leads a very moral life while Percy enjoys womanizing and ends up having multiple affairs. Both are very different paths to choose to follow, but, in the end, they both lead to the same desolate destination. Despite very different attitudes, neither Percy nor Dunstan is able to keep a long term relationship in tack. Guilt affects one, while illusion takes over the other. In the end, reality rears its ugly head, and the two are just washed aside to fulfil their destiny of being Fifth Business to everyone else in society.
"The conflict that exists between Percy and Dunstan creates an stimulating plot as the two provide each other with perfect opposites, while remaining best of friends. (J.McIntyre, eng. Dept. U. of PEI)"
" Being young and unwilling to recognize that there was anything I did not, or could not know, I decided that this unknown aspect must be called madness. (pg. 53)"
"She lived by a light that arose from within; I could not comprehend. (pg. 52)"
"But what I knew then was that nobodynot even my motherwas to be trusted in a strange world that showed very little of itself on the surface. (pg.36)"
"I had no intention of being anybody's own dear laddie, ever again. (pg. 88)"
"So you provide romance, I said. I provide something that strengthens faith. (pg. 132)"
" Because we love the saint and want him to be more like ourselves, we attribute some imperfection to him. (pg. 172)"
"If you think her a saint, she is a saint to you. (pg. 174)"
"I was determined that if I could not take care of Mrs. Dempster, nobody else should do it. She was mine. (pg.180)"
"I was trying to get at the subject without wearing either the pink spectacles of faith or the green spectacles of science. (pg.200)"
"Working on these illusions was delightful but destructive of my character. I was aware that I was recapturing the best of my childhood; my imagination had never known such glorious freedom...I knew that something was terribly wrong with Dunstan
Ramsay. (pg. 215)"
"Now you have taken a tumble and found yourself in the middle of the fight, and you are whimpering because it is rough. (pg. 222)"
"...Christians without Christ. Those are the worst; they have the cruelty of doctrine without the poetic grace of myth. (pg. 226)"
"A truly mythological wish.... (pg. 242)"
"As we neared our sixties the cloaks we had wrapped about our essential selves were wearing thin. (pg. 242)"
"...then I wept...and it frightened and hurt me. (pg.244)"
"I'm simply trying to recover something of the totality of your life. Don't you want to possess is as a whole--the bad with the good? (pg.262)"
Guilt and its Effects
From the very beginning of the story, Dunstan is faced with guilt. It all begins when the snowball that was intended to hit him misses and hits Mrs. Dempster. Even though he didn't throw the ball, he feels that he is responsible. This makes him feel compelled to look after the poor lady while she recovers (which never actually fully occurs). This causes other things in his life such as relationships to be sacrificed. He never has any control over anything in his life and this is one of the main reasons why he doesn't. He feels that it is his job to look out for society, which in turn makes him like a saint, but everyone needs to take time for them in life. Without this down time, we would all go crazy.
Religion and Illusion
This novel explores the reality of the real world as well as the out look on life that is shaped by religion. As in the title, Dunstan realizes at the end of the novel that no matter how faithful and selfless he is, he will always be looked upon as mere fifth business to the rest of society. The battle between illusion and religion is heated into the classical set of good vs. evil. This can be represented by the two main characters, Dunstan and Percy. It is seen, however, that even religion can turn on you, as seen with Rev. Dempster. When this happens, all the illusions of the world are vanquished, and Dunstan has a difficult time with all of the social aspects in his life.
In this novel, the author explores the vastness and diversity of the personalities of people by choosing two opposites. Dunstan is a kind and caring person who feels it is his duty to help everyone that he can. He sacrifices many things in order to do much of this. Also, it is seen through this that he lacks control over his own life, as it is relinquished to the power of society. On the other hand, we are introduced to Percy. He is a character who is in search of total control all the time. He likes to womanize and have a good time. Even though he is best friends with Dunstan, he becomes jealous of him from the very beginning. This illuminates the type of personality that he has. Both of these personalities are hugely different, but both end up with the same result, a lack of self control, and a failure to succeed in any form of a relationship.