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Fifth Business

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 1504 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In his novel, Fifth Business, Robertson Davies addresses the meaning of life by exploring Jungian archetypes. In the opening pages of the novel, Boy Staunton conceals a stone inside a snowball and throws it in anger at his friend Dunstan Ramsay. Ramsay ducks and the snowball goes on to hit Mary Dempster. Mary who is pregnant is brought prematurely into labor and delivers a grotesque unnaturally small child. The implications of this one single moment, forces the characters over the next sixty years to confront their personal devil. Likewise, in the movie, Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein’s crowning achievement was to be the creation of his monster. However, once he succeeded in bringing the creature to life, Victor found that it was ugly and he abandoned it. The monster in reality is Victor’s “shadow” self. In each situation, these characters face their personal devil, their shadow. It becomes clear as you read through the novel and watch the movie in its entirety that in order to achieve the heroic life, one must face his personal devil.

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Dunstan Ramsay carries the weight of Paul Dempster’s premature birth on his shoulders his entire life. If it was not for Liesl, an extremely elegant and intelligent woman confined inside a deformed and gigantic body, Dunstan would not have experienced happiness and ultimately a life well lived. Liesl’s surname is “Vitzliputzli”, which means “devil”. In Jungian terms, one’s “devil” refers to one’s shadow, the “suppressed part of the personality, the dark or more primitive side of the consciousness.” Thus, Liesl represents Dunstan’s shadow, all that he has suppressed from his ego; all that he has hidden from the public world. According to Jung, an “ego which refuses for long to recognize the existence and force of its shadow is inviting disruption.” Therefore, the shadow will invade the consciousness until the conscious recognizes the opposing force and comes to terms with it. This is one way of coming to know one’s self. This is why Liesl is the most influential and important mentor, because she challenges Dunstan to stop suppressing his shadow so he can find out and come to terms with who he is. “But you – there is a whole great price of your life that is unlived, denied, set aside. That is why at fifty you can’t bear it any longer and fly all to pieces and pour out your heart to the first really intelligent woman you have met – me…This is the revenge of the unlived life, Ramsay. Suddenly it makes you a fool…You should take a look at this side of your life you have not lived…But every man has a devil…you must get to know your personal devil…” (230). It is clearly evident that Liesl wants to change Dunstan for the better and from the revenge of the unlived life when she tells him to come to know his devil. “Why don’t you shake hands with your devil” (213).

Padre Blazon functions in Dunstan’s personal groups of archetypes as the image of the Wise Old Man. He is present for a reason, to aid Dunstan in his quest for wholeness. Blazon asks Dunstan to analyze Mary Dempster and ask himself the question, “Who is he in your personal world? What figure is she in your personal mythology?” (179). Dunstan confides his belief that she is a saint. Blazon’s response is that if Dunstan believes she is a saint, then to Dunstan, she is a saint. Why should he worry what anyone else thinks? “If you think her a saint, she is a saint to you…That is what we call the reality of the soul; you are foolish to demand the agreement of the world as well” (175). Blazon also states that miracles are commonplace, not rare, and that life is a miracle by itself through the act of god. “I think you are a fool to fret that she was knocked on the head because of an act of yours. Perhaps that was what she was for, Ramezay….Maybe God wants you for something special. Maybe so much that you are worth a woman’s sanity” (179). Through this, Blazon attempts to diminish unjustified guilt that Dunstan has been carrying with him for so long. In turn, Blazon supplies Dunstan with another vital piece of advice that serves as a fundamental stepping stone to Dunstan’s wholeness. He tells Dunstan to forgive himself for being human. “…Forgive yourself for being a human creature, Ramezay. That is the beginning of wisdom; that is part of what is meant by the fear of God; and for you it is the only way to save your sanity” (180).

Boy Staunton does not feel remorse for the snowball incident that caused the premature birth of Paul Dempster. This incident acted as a basis for Boy’s growing shadow, and contributed to the demise of his soul and in the revenge of his unlived life. When Boy was asked if he had any recognition of Mrs. Dempster, he replied: “None at all. Why Should I?”(261). Although Boy only met her once, the guilt remained suppressed inside him for the rest of his life. Dunstan realized that to live a complete life, one must rid one’s self of the guilt. Dunstan dealt with his guilt by supporting Mrs. Dempster in her later years. Boy on the other hand ignored the guilt he felt for Mrs. Dempster. When Dunstan reminded Boy about the snowball incident, “It is the stone you put in the snowball you threw at Mrs. Dempster” (250), Boy realizes what he is guilty of and what he repressed for so many years. Boy could not handle this and needed to get rid of his guilt and he needed Paul to help him, help him run away from his conscience. Boy escaped his inner shadow by the only way he could, by taking his own life. When Boy was found the morning after, a stone was found in his mouth. Boy considered the stone to represent his guilt and in the end tried to swallow the stone and his guilty conscience. Suicide was the only way out for Boy, because his shadow was much too big to confront. Addressing Boy’s death, the Brazen Head states, “He was killed by the usual cabal: by himself, first of all; by the woman he knew; by the woman he did not know; by the man who granted his inmost wish; and by the inevitable fifth, who was keeper of his conscience and keeper of the stone” (252).

Victor Frankenstein is depicted as someone who cannot deviate from the course that he chose. Although Victor initially dedicates a large portion of his life to creating his masterpiece, he spends more of his life fearing and fighting his monster. Some critics see the creature as Victor’s “shadow” self … that part of each of us that we are not always consciously aware of that contains things that may be hidden. Victor appears to disregard any responsibility he has for his creation and only feels guilt in unleashing such a monster, rather than guilt in abandoning the monster. Throughout the movie, Mr. Frankenstein repeatedly attempts to forget about his creation and continue with his life, at which point the monster surfaces to wreak havoc upon his life. One wise old man points out to him that “man shouldn’t live in the shadows” (Frankenstein, 2004), for the monster becomes Victor’s shadow because he continually ignores him. After the monster takes the first step of revenge by killing Victor’s family, Victor’s unconscious self becomes a reality. It is here that he comes face to face with the monster, the shadow, who explains, “You gave me all these emotions, but you didn’t tell me how to use them” (Frankenstein, 2004). As the movie progresses Victor marries Elizabeth despite the brute’s promise to murder her on their wedding night. After discovering the creature had fulfilled his promise, Victor Frankenstein pledges to dedicate the remains of his life to finding and destroying the monster. Once again, the monster has prevented Frankenstein from enjoying his life; a life unlived, and forced him to be as lonely and miserable as him.

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Boy Staunton childhood experience played a very important role in the stableness of his soul. Guilt can only be suppressed for a limited time before it comes out in unwanted ways. Ultimately Staunton’s “personal devil” prevailed and his heroic life was lost, to suicide. The same can be said for Victor Frankenstein, for if he only acknowledged the feeling of guilt and gave the monster the attention, love and guidance he needed; he would not have encountered his shadow and would of lead a heroic life. With the help of Padre Blazon and Liesl, Dunstan ultimately decides that it does not matter if others share the meaning he has found in Mary Dempster, and thus Dunstan has found his “personal devil”. He realizes that life has a different meaning for everyone. For him, life is about the search for meaning, which he comes to believe is more important than meaning itself. Dunstan lives the heroic life.

One mishap in a person’s life can create a “personal devil”, the goal is to “revenge the unlived life”, in order to find ones true happiness in later life.


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