Understanding Dunstan

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To what extent do relationships contribute to the central character’s ultimate understanding of himself/herself in Fifth Business?

Understanding Dunstan

Robertson Davies’ novel Fifth Business outlines the development of the lost and empty main character Dunstan Ramsay. Dunstan forms many relationships on many different levels. Each of Dunstan’s private and intimate relationships gave him a unique view of his identity. These relationships help him understand and get closer to the accomplishments of his quest of self knowledge, happiness, and ultimately fulfilling his role as ‘Fifth Business’. Diana, Liesl and Mrs. Dempster play vital roles in Dunstan’s understanding of himself.

Dunstan’s first lover, Diana Marfleet, was a beautiful volunteer nurse who had taken care of him after his war injuries. Diana was the first person who Dunstan had a sexual experience with. Dunstan did not have any sexual experience with any previous women. Waiting for a woman like Diana shows that Dunstan had always respected the women in his life and was saving the experience. “I shall always be grateful to her for teaching me what the physical side of love was; after the squalor of the trenches her beauty and high spirits were the best medicine I got.” (81). He had not wanted to fool around sexually with anyone before the right woman came along. He waited for an honourable and admirable woman to lose his virginity to and this reveals his true respect for women and himself. Diana tended to and supported Dunstan through his whole recovery after the war. “She had been nursing me… she had also washed me and attended to my bed pan and the urinal” (77). By pursuing a relationship after Diana had cared for Dunstan for so long, it showed that he found that he had missed the nurturing given by a mother. “But even as I write it down I know how clear it is that what was wrong between Diana and me was that she was too much a mother to me, and as I had had one mother, and lost her, I was not in a hurry to acquire another.”(81). Turning towards Diana as a mother figure reveals that Dunstan was in search for that presence in his life, but not for that presence to be his wife. Diana showed Dunstan that he is emotionally unstable from the relationship he had with his mother, and did not want to marry someone like her. He felt like Diana had created him, nurtured him from nothing and turned him into a new person, and this was not someone who he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Diana was expecting an engagement proposal from Dunstan but he felt the relationship wouldn't work. “I wanted my life to be my own; I would live henceforth for my own satisfaction. That did not include Diana.” (81). After discussing their relationship and mutually accepting each other as friend, Diana renames Dunstan to Dunstan. This is his rebirth. This rebirth is explained as “new freedom and new personality” (86). This name change follows his personality. After the war Dunstan becomes a different person and Diana can see this in Dunstan. Therefore she detaches him from his past, and pushes him to move forward in his life. It is a mature sounding name, to match the man that came out after undergoing the horrors of war. Diana gave Dunstan a unique view of himself. She showed him that he longed for that motherly presence in his life; he respected women when it came to sex, and he was a new man after the war. Through many of her actions and connections to Dunstan, she really helped him understand himself better.

Liesl helps Dunstan rediscover his body, his emotions, and gives him a unique view of himself. When Dunstan first meets Liesl, he is shocked and disgusted by her appearance. However, the moment he hears her voice, he realizes that there is something more to her. “Her voice was beautiful and her utterance was an educated speech of some foreign flavour.” (196). Liesl uses praise when talking to Dunstan, and draws out a confident side to him, mentioning his...
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