The Persona in the Novel Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

Topics: Fifth Business

Obsession with the Persona

The persona is one’s character that is perceived by others. In the novel Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, between the marriages of the Dempster’s and the Staunton’s, Amasa and Boy, both desire acceptance from society. Continuing, to achieve acceptance, Amasa and Boy not only create an image for themselves but for their wives, who need to live up to the societies and their husband’s beliefs of the perfect wife and for their children, who must follow in their father’s footsteps to become just like them.

In order to be accepted by society, Amasa and Boy build their own persona and attempt to do the same for their wives and children.

Firstly, due to Amasa’s obsession with having a wife who conveys religious, graceful, and housewife characteristics, Mary Dempster is expected to play that role once she is married to him. Mrs.Dempster is a young free spirited woman who is now part of the community of
Deptford. She is different when compared to the rest of the towns’ people and this causes the society and Amasa to question if she truly is fit to be his wife. For example, “She had a tenderness never obviously displayed, for p0or, silly Mrs.Dempster, who was not twenty-one yet
and utterly unfit to be a preacher’s wife” (Davies, 4). After being with Mary for a period of time, Amasa realizes that allowing her to be her true self is not enough for him.

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She is not rising up to the standards of the community and so Amasa enforces a persona upon her as his wife. As a result, the consequence of being so persistent for Mary to change her persona causes Amasa to become the biggest disgrace Deptford has ever seen. He and his family are shunned from the community and are never spoken ofagain. Furthermore he is known, as the man who married a woman with such poor qualities and values, losing his place as reverend in Deptford and spending the rest of his time keeping intact the minimal status he has left. As the novel progresses, the burden of being married to Mary Dempster is taking a toll on Amasa. She is not becoming the wife he wants her to act like, she furthers herself to accept this persona, andthe angrier Amasa gets. Even Dunstan states that he “saw him now, a few times each week at a distance and if seemed to me that the burdens of his life were bearing him down'”(Davies, 35).

After the incident with Mrs.Dempster having sexual intercourse with the tramp, Amasa’s attempt to change Mary’s persona is completely destroyed. The community has now made their opinion on her; they believe she is a crazy, unstable woman who will never be part of their community again. In fact, they shun Amasa’s family from the community and her reputation is also entirely ruined. In addition, Amasa’s selfishness is what causes this to happen, trying to change his wife for his desire of acceptance in society is what places him in this position. He is left with nothing but the burden of his mad wife and his premature son. Therefore, the result of inflicting an image upon Mrs. Dempster is attempted so Amasa feels a sense of acceptance by society.Next, in order for a man to be self-fulfilled, such as Boy Staunton, he must find his anima, however, Leola is not that woman because she did not live up to the persona Boy wants her to portray. Leola is
doing whatever she can possibly do to comply with Boy’s ideal persona.

For example, she researches through many books such as “Kristin Lavransdatter” and listening to “Ravel Bolero” yet, doing these things is not enjoyable. She begins to doubt herself and “she had lost heart in the fight to become the sort of sophisticated, cultivated, fashionably alert woman Boy wanted for a wife” (Davies, 140). Throughout Boy’s entire life, he has built and developed his life around Success and wealth. Thus, he expects Leola to live up to that same standard because it adds to his persona. However, she not represent the image he wants her to convey. She is too feminine, unfashionable, and her speech is not correct in Boy’s perspective. As, a result, of Boy’s pressure it causes her to self-destruct. Just like Mary Dempster, Leola is unfit to be Boy’s wife. They are both forced to convey a certain persona of society created by society and their husbands are both forced to convey a certain persona of society created by society and their husbands areunable to live up to them. Next, as Boy’s marriage progresses there have been many complications dealing with their relationship. Leola is not as desirable, beautiful, and her status does not follow her once they move to Toronto.

Hence, Boy tells Dunstan “that he had been led into his marriage by love and love alone; through he did not say so it was clear he owed cupid a grudge” (Davies, 142). To begin with, Boy marries Leola because of her status while in Deptford. As they get older Boy finds her to be of no use because she does not support his persona anymore. Hence, this is why he owes cupid a grudge because she has now become a burden. Similar to Mary Dempster, asa result, Leola becomes mentally unstable. Therefore, causing their downfall, for they cannot live up to their husbands image. To conclude, being accepted by society is more important to Amasa and Boy then their wives. Secondly, Amasa not only expects his wife to portray a persona, his son Paul also needs to grow up to become a man who follows in his father’s footsteps. However, once Amasa discovers that Dunstan is teaching Paul magic secretly. For example, Paul is now able to pick up money and cause them to vanish which is one of many deceptive tricks he learns. Although, Dunstan does say “Of course he had restored them-utter corruption has not yet set in- and after a beating and much prayer it has all come out about the cards and what I had taught him” (Davies, 33).

Amasa’s biggest fear is of his son becoming corrupted by magic, and fail to depict the image of being a religious and faithful man. Amasa wants Paul to convey a similar persona to his because in order to be accepted by the society, Amasa knows what image one need’s to portray.
In addition, this shows how controlling Amasa is towards his son. He is unable to choose his interests and beliefs because Amasa believes that what he says is correct compared to anyone else. After many years, Paul has grown up to become a worldwide successful magician.
Although, if Paul did not runaway with the circus when he was younger, things would have become completely different. Dunstan points out to him “that if this had not been the case, he would have not become the Great Eisengrim but would probably be a Baptist parson in rural
Canada” (Davies, 216). Amasa, to the best of his ability triesto prevent Paul from learning magic as a child. However, Amasa’s controlling behavior does not work to his advantage because as a result, Paul does not become a parson. This is what is expected from him because he is a reverends son.

Addionally, Amasa fails to construct Paul’s persona into what he and society would find acceptable. Lastly, this proves that Amasa cares for his social role more than allowing his son to find his true self. Next, Boy builds an image for his son David to portray at a young age. So he is able to follow in his path and become idealized and accepted by society. To continue, Boy wants David to become a masculine, successful, wealthy man just like himself. This is why he restricts David from playing and doing certain things. For example, Leola “allowed the child to have highlander doll; did she want to make his son a sissy?” (Davies, 170).Boy thinks that giving a highlander doll to David will turm him into a soft, sensitive child, which is also what society will see him as. However, Boy does not want that reputation of creating a son that is of no resemblance to him. In addition, just like Paul, David has not lived half of his life and his image, values and beliefs have been created for them by society and their fathers. In the future, Boy has high expectations of his son because of all the things he has done for him. For example, placing him in the school of Colborne to become disciplined and experience the community life. However, years later Boy passes away and “in the list of the bereaved, Lorene took precedence over David (now forty, a barrister and a drunk)” (Davies, 238).

As a result, David does not measure up to Boy’s expectations because he does not become adored or loved by the community. As a result, Boy did not succeed when enforcing this identity upon David. When compared to Paul, David is in the same situation where their fathers did not support them and instead did what they believe is right. However, they both become men who did not follow in their father’s path and chose to create their own persona. Overall, Amasa and Boy did everything they could to support their image through their children but in the end, it
drove them further away from the communities acceptance. Thirdly, one of Amasa’s biggest fear is not being accepted by the community of Deptford. For this reason, he inhabits the characteristic of selfishness. He puts on this persona of being the hands of God and serving to help benefit the community.

However, after his wife goes mad, “he never finished without asking God for strength to bear his heavy cross, by which I knew that he meant Mrs.Dempster; she knew it too” (Davies, 32). In the same way, this biblical reference is comparing the pain and suffering Jesus went through by carrying the cross, to Amasa, and the pain he is enduring by having Mary as his wife. Amasa is so consumed with his persona that he asks God to help him tolerate Mary Dempster. Hence, this shows how selfish he is because he prays to help himself, not for his wife to get better. Above all, it proves that he cares more about how society views him than his own family. Eventually, when the incident ith Mary and the tramp is exposed to the community, Amasa decides to take his family and move into a cottage.

Where “there was a rumor that he kept her [Mary] tied to a long rope inside the house, so that she could move freely through it but not get out” (Davies, 43). In this situation, it clearly reveals Amasa’s true persona. A man with such strong religious beliefs would not do this to his own wife. He keeps her as a prisoner, so she is unable to wonder and cause more harm to the little reputation he has left, in hopes that he will be able to build his persona once again and be part of the community. In the end, Amasa’s attempt in building a persona for himself leads him to a miserable and unfulfilled life. Similarly, Boy inhabits the qualities that society finds significant to them, so he is able to be accepted and become idealized in the community. To continue, Boy wants to be superior when compared to everyone else in society. Being cared for or loved by them is not enough, he explains that his ideal the Prince of Wales “had romance and mystery.. and was gloated over by young women because he thought more of looks and charms..a Prince, remote and fated for great things. Just the very model for Boy Staunton who saw himself in similar terms” (Davies, 100). This allusion of being compared to the Prince of Wales id the aristocrat Boy wants society to view him as. With this intention, he ends up conveying similar traits with the amount of wealth, success, and status that he obtains.

In fact, these are the expectations and values the society look for in order to be accepted. As a result, when compared to Amasa, Boy is also obsessed with his persona, that it consequently destroys him and leads him and his family to their death. Even though, Boy puts up this persona for everyone to see by putting his career first, as he becomes older Dunstan says “the cloaks we had wrapped about our essential selves were wearing thin” (Davies, 228). Boy’s cloak begins to wear thin because his true self is now appearing. His controlling, angry, ugly side is beginning to be exposed. However, that is the side Boy has concealed from society all his life, so much so that he is able to be loved
and worshipped by society. This is the reason why Boy creates a version of himself that makes up the qualities and values that society is looking for. Similarly, to Amasa, Boy’s frustration with living up to the persona he wants to portray causes him to reveal his true controlling identity. To conclude, the process of reaching the persona that society finds acceptable can lead to one’s downfall.

The need of being accepted by society is what causes Amasa and Boy to create their own persona and inflict one upon their wives and children. To summarize, the importance of Amasa’s and Boy’s real identity must stay hidden to portray the image society finds acceptable, their wives must fit the personas given to them by society, and their children must follow in their father’s path. In the end, one’s obsession with their persona can bring them to an unfulfilled and unsatisfied life.

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The Persona in the Novel Fifth Business by Robertson Davies. (2023, Mar 10). Retrieved from

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