The Role of Women in the novel Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

June 1, 2022 by Essay Writer

Dorothy L. Sayers states “Wherever you find a great man, you will find a great mother or a great wife standing behind him.” The role of women in Robertson Davies Fifth Business are fundamental and essential to the character development and spiritual meaning that the protagonist (Dunstan Ramsay) searches for throughout the story.

Even though he is the protagonist, Dunstan stays in the background of the action, and is interwoven in numerous themes and subplots. Dunstan travels far and wide to pursue his study of saints, which puts him on a journey of self discovery through paths that are full of his consistent guilt, which carries an underlined theme. The importance of women is a constant in Dunstan’s life throughout the novel since his childhood in Deptford, and onwards as we see the women in his life moulding, or setting him free. The roles of these women can be analyzed through the ideas of characterization by Perrine to see how they contribute to the development of Dunstan and to the running theme of isolation.

The first woman to have a major influence in Dunstan’s life is his mother-Mrs. Ramsay. His mother is the first maternal influence he has and she helps to mould him into a person who takes control of his life. Even though she seems to love her son she can be characterized by what Perrine calls indirect characterization, where her personality is revealed through her actions, and dialogue. By using Perrine’s method of indirect characterization, we can see that she is a determined, and strict mother whose feelings towards her son change over time.

Through her actions we see that she shifts from a lovely parental role with the arrival of Paul Dempster. With the arrival of Paul we see the focus of her love change and isolation is coupled with the resentment she feels after the snowball incident. This is shown when Dunstan says, “I began to believe that i was more responsible for the birth of Paul Dempster than were his parents….Part of that dreadful fate would undoubtedly be rejection by my mother” (Davies 17). By him saying this we see Mrs. Ramsay’s attention and affection being focused towards Paul instead of her own son, which starts Dunstan’s feelings of isolation-who begins to feel hatred towards his mother. The treatment his mother bestows upon Dunstan in his youth creates many instances of tension between the two characters, which causes Dunstan to seek out another motherly figure-Mary Dempster. Inevitably, Mrs. Ramsay is responsible for Dunstan’s isolation tendencies and his inability to connect with women.

Diana Marfleet is the first woman Dunstan get into a sexual relationship with, and with her being his first realistic love she ends up playing a very significant role in the development of Dunstan and to his isolation. We first meet Diana when she takes care of Dunstan when he is injured during the war. As the two characters relationship begins to detour from a friendly one into a sexual one, we see how Diana allows Dunstan to begin to find his true self. She does this by giving him a new name, “ You’ll never get anywhere in the world named Dumbledum Ramsay” (Davies 92). This name change signifies Dunstan’s new view of life and his rebirth. Even though Diana helps him start a new chapter in his life, she can be characterized by what Perrine calls direct characterization, where her personality is revealed by what is said about her by other characters. By using Perinne’s method of direct characterization, we can she that is a loving, and overbearing person who contributes to Dunstan’s isolation.

By what is said about her we can see her shift from a lover to a motherly figure in the eyes of Dunstan, “She was too much of a mother to me and as I had one mother, and lost her, I was not a hurry to acquire another” (Davies 88). By him saying this we see Diana becoming a reject of Dunstan because, she acts more like a mother than the sexual partner that he craves. With her being determined to marry Dunstan, she ends up pushing him away and causing him to leave England and go back home. Inevitably, Diana Marfleet is another character who is responsible for Dunstan being socially isolated since he is deficient in fulfilling relationships.

The last woman to have a lasting effect on Dunstan’s life is Liesl Vitzliputzli. Liesl is the first woman in the novel to fully understand Dunstan and to actually help him stray from his persistent isolation, which in turn sets him free from his past. Even though Lisel seems like an unfriendly and ugly character she can be characterized by what Perrine calls indirect characterization, where her personality can be evident by her actions. By using this method of characterization, we can see that she the only person who cares about Dunstan’s well being. Liesl first appears in part five of the novel when Dunstan travels to Mexico City and ends up following a magic show. As the two characters relationship evolves, we see how Lisel becomes Dunstan’s confidant, which begins with her trying to have sex with him. By her trying to have sex with Dunstan it opens the door for her to give him counsel and to shed light for Dunstan to realize that he never “leads full life” and needs to take action.

In conclusion, the women in Robertson Davies Fifth Business are an essential and necessary element in the novel who contribute to the development of the protagonist, Dunstan Ramsay. The various women in the life of Dunstan are a constant who either mould him, ot set him free. With the use of Perrine’s methods of characterization we are able to analyze Mrs. Ramsay, Diana Marfleet, and Liesl Vitzliputzli roles in the life and isolation of Dunstan.


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