Davis’ ‘Fifth Business’: Death of Boy Staunton Submitted by: Johnny Jimenez Guilt can only be suppressed for a limited time before it comes out in unwanted ways. In the novel Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, Boy Staunton -a successful business man with a polished appearance but a tortured soul- took the ultimate plunge into his death. His decision was not merely his own, but was influenced by a team of hands that helped push him to his destiny. First Leola, who was his first love and his wife.
Then Mary Dempster, a neighbor from his old town Deptford, whom he mistakenly made into a “simple” woman. Next his lifelong-friend and enemy, Dunstan Ramsey, who was a constant reminder of the virtuous life boy longed to live. Then Paul Dempster, the product of Boy’s immature childhood behavior. Finally himself, because he suppressed his guilt and refused to accept the shadow that lurked within him. The five people that killed Boy Staunton (as stated) were: Mary- “the woman he did not know”, Leola- “the woman he knew”, Dunstan- “the keeper of his conscience and the stone”, Paul-whom granted his inner most wish, and lastly, Boy Staunton himself.
It can be observed that childhood experiences play a very important role in the stable ness of ones soul. One mishap in childhood can create a devastating blow to ones true happiness in later life. This was exactly the case in BoyStaunton’s life. Once, when he was little, he got in an argument with Dunny which led to snowballs being launched at Dunny from an aggravated Boy Staunton. The last snowball concealed a rock, and hit Dunny’s neighbor Mary Dempster in the head. As a result, she gave birth prematurely (to Paul Dempster), and then afterwards became “simple minded.” This particular incident acted as a foundation for Boy’s growing shadow, and contributed to the demise of his soul.
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It is ironic that the person who had such a significant influence on BoyStaunton’s shadow, was a woman he did not know. When Boy was asked if he had any recognition of Mrs. Dempster, he replied: ” None at all. Why Should I?” (page 261).
Although Boy only met her once, the guilt remained suppressed inside him for the rest of his life. Boy’s guilt grew as the years went by, fed by incidents that occurred from different people.
Leola, Boy’s first wife was one of these people. Leola was born in Deptford as was Boy. They grew up together going to the same school, and fancied each other throughout the years. When Boy came back from the war, they fell in love, got married and remained that way until the day Leola Staunton killed herself (due to Boy neglecting her).
Throughout their marriage Boy wanted Leola to be something she could not. Leola tried hard to suit his lifestyle but eventually Boy realized that she was not what he wanted; “She was trying hard, but she could not keep pace with Boy’s social advancement” (page 151).
As a result Boy began neglecting her and their children. The neglect grew and eventually Boy cheated on her. As the neglect grew, so did his guilt. When Leola eventually killed herself (due to Boy’s neglect), his guilt grew so big he could not face it. This could be seen when Boy did not even attend her funeral.
Dunstan Ramsey was Paul’s life-long friend and enemy. Boy and Dunny ran somewhat of a parallel life. They both grew up feeling guilt for Mrs. Dempster. Dunny realized that to live a complete life, one must rid one’s self of the guilt. Dunny 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 and Leola. Boy did not know, but his conscience was so big that he would soon have to somehow open it up and face it. Dunny’s paperweight was the key. His paperweight was the stone that was hidden in the snowball that hit Mrs.
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Dempster in the head when they were children. When Dunny told Boy and Paul about the snowball incident, Boy realizes what he is guilty of and what he repressed for so many years. Boy also realizes that Dunny told the truth when he told him: “I’m simply trying to recover something of the totality of your life… It’s time you tried to be a human being. ” (page 264) At that point, Boy knew he had to deal with the shadow he was hiding from himself his whole life. Boy didn’t know how to rid himself of the guilt, and turned to Paul Dempster for the answer.
In addition to Boy’s guilt, Paul told him that he was responsible Paul’s premature birth. He also told him that he was also responsible for the ridicule from the town. Which eventually lead to Paul’s running away to the circus. I nother words, Boy was responsible for Paul’s whole life.
Boy could not handle this and needed to get rid of his guilt fast and he needed Paul to help him. Paul’s part in Boy’s charade was simple. Boy wanted to escape his shadow, and Paul could provide the means to do so. When Boy asked Paul if he needed a lift (on page 265), his intentions were completely different from what Dunny thought them to be. Dunny thought that Boy “wanted to blackguard himself to Eisen grim in the car” (page 265).
Boy actually wanted Paul to help him to run away from his conscience.
Paul knew what was going to happen to Boy when he said: .”.. -for eighty days in paradise, if for nothing in this life. We shall call it quits if you will drive me to my hotel.” . On the drive home, Paul played his part by hypnotizing Boy. This helped Boy escape his inner shadow by the only way he could, by taking his own life.
When Boy was found the morning after, a strange stone was found in his mouth. That stone was the same stone which hit Mary Dempster in the head so many years before. Boy considered the stone to represent his guilt and in the end tried to swallow the stone (he tried to swallow his guilty conscience).
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Suicide was the only way out for Boy, because his shadow was much to big to confront. Boy’s biggest mistake in his life, was that he did not face his conscience when it was small. Instead he let it grow inside him, a mistake which ultimately led to his death.
Indeed Boy’s death was influenced by different people throughout his life. Leola who was the woman he knew. Mary – the woman he did not know. Paul -who granted his inmost wish. And of course Dunny -the inevitable fifth.
But BoyStaunton was the only one who could be accountable for his guilt. For he, and he alone, ignored his shadow and left it to grow. In the end his shadow was to big to defeat, and so, pushed by the darkness within him, Boy entered finally intothe shadow of death.