The novel demonstrates a persistent interest in psychology—the works of Freud and Jung are often cited by several of its characters. Like these psychologists themselves, Davies is interested especially in the psychology of love and family.
Dunstan often tries to understand the psychology of his family dysfunction growing up—his relationship with his mother was not strong, yet he always felt guilty about lying to her as a child, and wonders if his attraction to certain women is a function of the Freudian oedipal complex (where the subject feels a sexual attraction for his mother.) And Boy’s sexual promiscuity is also often described in psychological terms. Dunstan is less sexual than Boy, and has trouble comprehending Boy’s relentless pursuit of adventurous sex.
There are many examples of split identities in this book—it is especially significant that Dunstan, Paul, and Boy all rename themselves. Dunstan often reflects on this as a kind of psychological phenomenon wherein the three of them all leave past versions of themselves behind and grow into new identities. This resembles discussions in both Freud and Jung about repression of childhood memories and the divided self—a concept (appearing in both Freud and Jung) that describes how the human psyche is divided into the conscious and unconscious, which together make up the self.
Mrs. Dempster’s insanity is in many ways at the heart of the novel’s conflict—and Dunstan’s (perhaps neurotic) attachment to Mrs. Dempster is also a focus of the novel’s psychological discussion. Dunstan’s love life, though perhaps seemingly uneventful, is deeply psychologically complicated. In many ways the novel serves to describe Dunstan coming to understand himself and his psychological capacity to love not only his work but also other people—to love his family, his friends, the women in his life.
Published in 1970, Fifth Business was written at a time when the western interest in Freudian (and post-Freudian) psychiatry was still quite avid. Davies incorporates contemporary questions about the meaning and merit of psychological science—for psychology is yet another way we can understand ourselves and our humanity, and this book is in many ways an effort to do just that.
Love, Family, and Psychology ThemeTracker
Love, Family, and Psychology Quotes in Fifth Business
But what most galls me is the patronizing tone of the piece—as if I had never had a life outside the classroom, had never risen to the full stature of a man, had never rejoiced or sorrowed or known love or hate.
Can I write truly of my boyhood? Or will that disgusting self-love which so often attaches itself to a man’s idea of his youth creep in and falsify the story.
I had made her what she was, and in such circumstances I must hate her or love her.
Nobody—not even my mother—was to be trusted in a strange world that showed very little of itself on the surface.
I cannot remember a time when I did not take it as understood that everybody has at least two, if not twenty-two, sides to him.
I felt that everything was good, that my spirit was wholly my own, and that though all was strange nothing was evil.
We are public icons, we two: he an icon of kingship, and I an icon of heroism, unreal yet very necessary; we have obligations above what is merely personal, and to let personal feelings obscure the obligations would be failing in one’s duty.
She had fallen in love with me because she felt she had made whatever I was out of a smashed-up and insensible hospital case.
It was characteristic of Boy throughout his life that he was always the quintessence of something that somebody else had recognized and defined.
I was rediscovering religion as well…The Presbyterianism of my childhood had effectively insulated me against any enthusiastic abandonment to faith
“A fool-saint is somebody who seems to be full of holiness…but because he’s a fool it all comes to nothing…because it is virtue tainted with madness, and you can’t tell where it’ll end up.”
Now I should be able to see what a saint was really like and perhaps make a study of one without the apparatus of Rome, which I had no power to invoke. The idea possessed me that it might lie in my power to make a serious contribution to the psychology of religion.
Thus I learned two lessons: that popularity and good character are not related, and that compassion dulls the mind faster than brandy.
Why do people all over the world, and at all times, want marvels that defy all verifiable facts?...The marvelous is indeed an aspect of the real.
“Life is a spectator sport to you.”
“You make yourself responsible for other people’s troubles. It is your hobby.”
“It is not spectacular but it is a good line of work…Are you Fifth Business? You had better find out.”
Boy had always been fond of the sexual pleasure that women could give him, but I doubt if he ever knew much about women as people.
“You created a God in your own image, and when you found out he was no good you abolished him. It’s a quite common form of psychological suicide.”
“Come to Switzerland and join the Basso and the Brazen Head. We shall have some high old times before The Five make an end of us all.”