Fifth Business Chapter 5 Summary

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World War II increases Boy Staunton's stature as an industrialist. He is appointed Minister of Food in a coalition Cabinet, and does a wonderful job of feeding the population of Canada and its armed services, and even feeding Great Britain. "If the average height of the people of the British Isles is rather greater today than it was in 1939, much of the credit must go to Boy Staunton. He was one of the few men, not a professional scientist, who really knew what a vitamin was and where it could be found and put to work cheaply." (pg. 219) The position keeps him away from home for most of the war, and he becomes further estranged from his wife and children, even his beloved daughter Caroline. His son David is now a boarder at Colborne, where Dunstan keeps a fatherly eye on the twelve-year-old. Two years later, in 1942, it falls to Dunstan to inform David of his mother's death. Leola dies of pneumonia, but Dunstan thinks it suspicious that Leola had opened the windows on such a cold winter afternoon. Fourteen-year-old David's alarming reaction is that Leola is better off. Boy is in England and unable to return for the funeral; he asks Dunstan to take care of it all, which he does. Dunstan keeps David close by his side for several days at school, and during the funeral. Milo Papple shows up to pay his respects, and comments how hard it must be for Dunstan to lose Leola for the second time. Dunstan is ashamed that he feels no sense of loss whatsoever. In 1947, Boy returns for good from his war efforts in Europe and gives Dunstan some bad news. Dunstan has been serving as temporary Headmaster since the former Headmaster died. With the war on, they had been unable to find a replacement, and Dunstan had been doing all the work for no additional salary. He expects to be offered the job and additional compensation as soon as the war is over, but instead Boy tells him that the Board wants to hire a married man. Dunstan offers to get married, but Boy admits the board is looking for someone more conventional; Dunstan's interest in saints has given him a reputation for being eccentric. At this point, the narrator tells the Headmaster, for whom he is writing this chronicle, that the man, Boy chose, was of course the Headmaster himself. Dunstan is furious to be cast aside by Boy and the Board after eighteen months of thankless service, doing double duty as teacher and acting Headmaster. He insists that the Board help him save face by announcing that Dunstan has turned down the job due to his writing commitments; Dunstan also insists on a six-month, paid leave of absence, so that he can visit the shrines of Latin America. Thus, the narrator finds himself, a few months later, at the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. He sits in the shrine day after day and wonders what will happen to mercy, compassion, and divine wonder in the face of the rising industrialization of America. The world is freeing itself from belief in God, and putting its faith in modernity, capitalism, and science. The narrator insists he has nothing against financial and educational advances, he just wonders at what price they come. Just as in his younger days, he still wonders why people have faith in miracles and wonders. He wonders if it is a childish escape from reality, or if it is a recognition of some deeper knowledge we all hold, that the miraculous is actually a part of reality. Dunstan only spends part of each day on such speculation; the rest he spends in light-hearted tourism. He sees a notice in the paper of a magic show, and enthusiastically reserves a theater seat. His love of magic has never fully died, and he has seen many great illusionists in his time, including the remarkable Harry Houdini. He has, however, never heard of the magician scheduled to perform that night's show - a man named Magnus Eisengrim. The show captivates him immediately. Unlike most magic shows, it is artistic rather than merely showy and entertaining. The illusions are ghostly and...
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