Fifth Business

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Fifth Business Part 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Dunstan passes quickly over WWII. Boy is made even richer and more famous by this war. In 1942, Leola dies. She had grown more and more listless as Boy’s fame grew, eventually falling ill of pneumonia. Dunstan noticed that Leola took to leaving her windows open, and believes she did so to accelerate her own death. Dunstan informs Boy and the children of Leola’s death. Boy is more or less unfazed, Caroline screams and cries, but David simply says his mother is better off. Dunstan feels for him and takes special care of him at school (as he attends the school where Dunstan teaches).
Leola’s death seems to come as a surprise to no one. Dunstan casually notes that Leola likely took steps to end her own life. Boy is predictably unconcerned about his wife. Caroline is the only one who seems to have what we might consider a typical or “normal” reaction to the death of her mother: she cries and becomes upset. Dunstan seems to have more sympathy, however, for David, whose cold, intellectual approach to the issue probably reminds Dunstan of himself.
Themes
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Dunstan feels bad for Leola, but his caring for her had been a “matter of duty.” Everyone in Deptford mourns the end of a “great romance” between Boy and Leola. But things move on fairly quickly. The Headmaster of Colborne College leaves his post, and Dunstan is appointed. But in 1947, Boy, who is on the board, tells him he must step down—he was a fine headmaster in wartime, but now there is peace, and he is too “queer” to be left in charge. The Headmaster needs a wife.
Dunstan refers to his “duty” to Leola—but the reader must wonder why Dunstan would feel he had a duty to her? That the town believes Boy and Leola’s marriage was a “great romance” is grimly comical, but also a commentary on the idea of roles and mythology. Their “great romance” is akin to Dunstan’s status as a “hero.” Everyone quickly moves on, and Dunstan’s isolation and loneliness costs him a job. Boy doesn’t like how Dunstan’s life may appear to others.
Themes
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Boy says he hopes Dunstan will stay on as a teacher, and Dunstan agrees, but demands a six month leave so that he can do some extended travelling through Latin and South America. Boy agrees, and appoints the current Headmaster—to whom this letter is addressed.
It turns out Dunstan is not even bothered by the loss—we get the sense yet again that he was doing something simply because he’d been asked, not because he wanted to. His belief in fate leads him to simply take what comes.
Themes
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2. A few months later, Dunstan is in Mexico, touring old churches and learning more about the existence of Saints there. He begins working on a prologue to a discussion of the nature of faith—he wonders why people yearn for marvels that defy verifiable facts, and whether or not marvels are brought about by desire for them, or whether the “marvelous is indeed an aspect of the real.” Dunstan concludes during his time in Mexico that “faith is a psychological reality.”
Dunstan continues to think about the nature of faith, and whether or not faith and religion is something owned by the individual, with a different meaning for everybody. His conclusion that faith is an “intellectual reality” suggests that he believes that if faith, God, and religion “exist” in a person’s psyche, that is enough to say that they are “real.”
Themes
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One day, Dunstan finds an advertisement for a magic show, and, since he has never lost his love of magic, decides to attend. The magician’s name is Magnus Eisengrim, and though other magic shows had become comical or farcical, his is dripping with a serious kind of poetic drama that Dunstan greatly admires. He is even more pleased to discover that the Magician is none other than Paul Dempster.
Yet another marvelous coincidence: Paul Dempster crosses Dunstan’s path yet again. He is no longer a small-time carnival magician performing tricks. He is now a successful artist with his own show, a show that betrays a sense of drama and poetry that Dunstan respects.
Themes
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After the show Dunstan goes backstage in search of Paul but is told that Magnus Eisengrim takes no visitors. He is about to give up when a hideously ugly woman asks him if he is Dunstable Ramsay, and says that Eisengrim would like to speak with him. Dunstan is introduced to Paul and his beautiful assistant, Faustina. Paul seems very uneasy at his being there, and Dunstan thinks he should go, but is surprised when Paul asks him to lunch the next day. That night, as Dunstan is counting his money, he notices that an amount slightly greater than the amount stolen from him in Europe has been added to his billfold.
Paul is still weary of Dunstan. He is not nearly as excited, it seems, about this chance meeting as Dunstan is. Yet the fact that Paul gives back what he has stolen is deeply significant: his illusions are no longer cheats or a gambles. Magic has become a noble thing in his life. It seems to have helped him become a less sinful person, contrary to Amasa’s beliefs. Magic is redemptive just as faith is.
Themes
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3. The hideous woman’s name is Liesl, and she attends lunch the next day. Dunstan discovers she is not so bad as she looks, and is really quite intelligent. Paul describes the sprit of his show to Dunstan—he doesn’t want to inspire fear or laughter, but rather wonder. He believes people need to marvel at something in these times, and he wants to be that marvel. He then reveals that Liesl has chosen Dunstan to write the mythical autobiography of Magnus Eisengrim. She has read his work on saints, and believes he will be perfect for the job.
Liesl is unlike any woman Dunstan has ever met or talked to. For one, she is in no way physically attractive. Mrs. Dempster, Leola, and Diana were, if not great beauties, at least not ugly. What’s more she is well-read and intelligent. In these ways she defies almost everything Dunstan knows (or thinks he knows) about womanhood. What’s more, she appears to have interests that are similar to his own.
Themes
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Dunstan is impressed by Liesl’s knowledge of hagiography (the study and writing of the lives of saints), and has to try hard to conceal how flattered he is. He asks about compensation and Liesl tells him they are willing to pay a generous yet reasonable price. Dunstan is fifty years old now—and at his age cannot afford to turn down an adventure, so he agrees.
Though Dunstan is flattered by Liesl’s praise he does not wish to show it—though it would certainly humanize him if he did so. Dunstan accepts the position in part because he realizes he is growing older. Perhaps he fears he has not lived a full enough life.
Themes
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4. He is questioning himself a month later, when he has grown utterly sick of Eisengrim and his crew. He especially hates Liesl, but their mysterious work appeals to his loneliness and he cannot back out. They sometimes seek his opinion on the show, and Dunstan suggests a new act called the Brazen Head, where a head would be “levitated” above the audience and speak truths about their lives and futures (this was accomplished by way of stage girls sneaking peaks at and stealing personal items from people in the audience, to provide information about their lives). The illusion is a success and grows wildly popular.
Dunstan is unhappy in his new job, though he is having success. Interestingly, our narrator-historian devises an illusion regarding the telling of fortunes, the bridging of the past and future. It is unclear why Dunstan hates Liesl—her only flaw seems to be her ugliness and her unfamiliarity. Perhaps Dunstan hates her because he cannot understand her. And in fact, coming to know Liesl, and what she stands for, will be one of the most important events in Dunstan’s life.
Themes
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Dunstan enjoys working on these illusions, but believes it is destroying his character. In returning to a childhood passion, he is also returning to the immodesty, deceitfulness, and egotism of childhood. He begins to boast and lie, and knows deep down that something terrible is wrong with Dunstan Ramsay. He knows this because of two things: he has become indiscreet in his gossip, and he has fallen in love with Faustina.
Dunstan believes that as an adult he has cultivated a noble and honorable character, and is frightened by the fact that he now displays immodesty and egotism. He tells secrets and has fallen in love. But of course the reader knows that these are natural human realities, and that no life is lived completely free of these vices—nor should it be.
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Dunstan finds himself telling secrets of his life to Liesl, who has a way of drawing information out of him even though he is not in the least bit fond of her. He tells her everything about the Dempsters, about the miracles, and about Paul’s childhood. He begs of her the next day to keep his secrets, and she refuses to make this promise. He tries again and again, and she refuses him, saying he is too old to still believe in secrets. She lashes out at him, saying he has spent all his love on one person, Mrs. Dempster, and that is why he despises Liesl, and why he is alone. She says it is not too late for him to enjoy a few years of “normal humanity.”
Suddenly and for the first time the reader is offered insight into Dunstan’s character that does not come from Dunstan himself. Liesl offers Dunstan another interpretation of his life’s history: that he has obsessively let Mrs. Dempster replace all love and human connection in his life, and that he despises Liesl because he does not know how to love someone who brings out the humanity and irrationality in him,
Themes
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Though this weighs heavily on Dunstan’s mind, the issue of his love for Faustina is even more painful. He knows it is impossible for them for be together, but pines after her anyway, watching her backstage and thinking of her every night. He imagines taking her home with him to Canada, and showing her off in the halls of the school. One day she greets him, calling him “St. Dunstan” and he is ecstatic. Though Faustina is Eisengrim’s mistress, he doubts there is any real love there. He begins to wonder if there is real potential for a relationship with Faustina. This lasts only a day, until Dunstan passes by her dressing room and is horrified to see Liesl and Faustina naked and pleasuring one another. Dunstan says he has never “known such a collapse of spirit even in the worst of the war.”
Dunstan’s love for Faustina, though painful, is distant. It is as though he loves her in part because she is inaccessible, because she is a symbol and a “role”. When he imagines the two of them together, he does not imagine sexual or emotional intimacy, but rather showing Faustina off in the hallways of his workplace. He believes the only obstacle to this rather dull future is the potential relationship between Liesl and Paul. However, as ever, the truth is far more complicated than it seems: Dunstan sees Liesl and Faustina together, and melodramatically tells us his “spirit” is wounded more in this moment than it ever was during the war.
Themes
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Late that night, Dunstan answers a knock at his bedroom door and it is Liesl. She sits on his bed and asks him to sit with her, telling him she knows he is upset about seeing her with Faustina. She tells him he is like a little boy, and that his “bottled up feelings have burst their bottle and splashed glass and acid everywhere.” Dunstan tells her not to bully him. She explains that Faustina is a physical creature, and that he simply can’t understand such a person. She becomes even more condescending, telling him that he treats life as though it is a “spectator sport,” and that had he loved Faustina he would have showed her that love physically.
Liesl once again gives us a sorely needed second perspective on Dunstan’s life. She notes that he has not progressed past childhood, that he has rejected human emotion and physical connection, preferring to intellectualize life and study it from afar. Liesl’s criticisms should strike the reader as deeply accurate: Dunstan has spent his life observing but not participating in marriage, love, strife, vice—the whole cast of irrational—but vital—human behaviors.
Themes
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To Dunstan’s astonishment, Liesl suggests they sleep together. She is stronger than him, and tries to wrestle him down on the bed. He bests her, and breaks her nose in the process. She flees from the room. Later that night she comes back, telling him he is stronger than he looks, and offering a little smile. She explains to him she merely wanted to show him he is human; that she has heard the story of his life, and has noticed he refuses to act human. Because he has failed to live his life, he has poured his soul out to her, the first truly intelligent woman he has ever met.
Liesl and Dunstan become violent after Liesl suggests they sleep together. Dunstan is repulsed and though she is stronger than him he manages to fight her off. Though this interaction is strange and perhaps unnerving, it is notably one of the few truly emotional exchanges Dunstan has ever had. Liesl simply wants to give Dunstan permission to be human, to acknowledge and love his human soul and engage with other human souls.
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She suggests that Dunstan should “get to know his own personal devil,” and that the “twice born” know how to embrace the irrational. She tells him he is fifth business, and explains the meaning of the phrase: the role in a drama that is neither hero, villain, nor confidant, but is still crucial to the unfolding of the plot. The fifth business is a lonely role, but a crucial one, and a “good line of work.” After this long talk, Dunstan and Liesl have sex, with what Dunstan describes as a “healing tenderness.”
As Liesl continues to explain herself, she seems less and less sinister. She explains to Dunstan his role in his life, his history, his drama and mythology: he is fifth business. He must learn however, how to be fifth business and still be human, and embrace the irrational in himself and others. Dunstan should think of himself as twice born—a religious and psychological concept that suggests someone can live more than one life, and have more than one simple identity.
Themes
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