Harold Marsh Harwood once said “Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably they are both disappointed” (Harwood). Through most of history men and women have been in constant conflict with each other. The conflicts have been mental, physical, political, and social. The reason for all the conflict is believed to be caused by the vast internal and external differences between men and women. The desires, goals and ways of thinking are very different between men and women. The reaction to these differences has caused intentional and unintentional harm to society and individuals. Multiple examples of this are in the novel Fifth Business written by Robertson Davies. The novel focuses on the lives of three men, Dunstan, Boy and Paul. A constant theme throughout their lives and the book is the men deciding the fates of the women around them and inevitably hurting any woman who fits feminine gender stereotypes and feminine archetypes, specifically motherly figures. The men do these things because each one of them suffers from psychological issues and past experiences that cause them to have a warped view of women, relationships and femininity. The experiences of their past and the mental problems they face in their adult lives causes the men to react badly to femininity and the women who display it. The reader sees this when examining the relationships these men have with women who are traditionally feminine. Now one could argue that femininity has nothing to do with the relationships Boy, Dunstan and Paul have with women and that they have problems with women in general. That is wrong because not all the relationships they have with women end up bad. When examining the relationships, the men have with women who do not fit traditional femininity these relationships end up being much more successful. The novel takes the reader on a journey of imperfect characters and how these imperfections impact those around them.
The Minds of Men
All the men in the book suffer from emotional and psychological issues, many of which developed from past traumatic experiences in their childhood. Each one of their problems is unique, but they do have many similarities. One thing all the men share is a warped anima. An anima is the feminine image within the male psyche. Carl Jung said “Every man carries within him the eternal image of woman… an imprint or ‘archetype’ of all ancestral experiences of the female, a deposit as it were, of all the impressions ever made woman—inshort, an inherited system of psychic adaption” (Bennet). Carl Jung’s theory heavily influenced Robertson Davies so much of his work can be seen throughout the novel (Moss). All three of the men’s anima become warped during their childhood.
Dunstan, the novels main protagonist, has a very warped idea of what women should be because he grows up with two rather unusual mother figures. The first being his actual mother, Mrs. Ramsay. Dunstan’s mother is overbearing, cared too much of what society thought of her and emasculated Dunstan’s father right in front of Dunstan. Her overbearing and abusive nature caused Dunstan to view women as harsh and cruel. Dunstan eventually begins to resent his mother and says “But what I knew then was that nobody-not even my mother was to be trusted in a strange world that showed very little of itself on the surface” (Davies 28) and “I knew she had eaten my father, and I was glad I didn’t have to fight any longer to stop her from eating me. Oh, these good, ignorant, confident women! How one grows to hate them” (Davies 81). Dunstan’s other mother figure is Mrs. Dempster. Having Mrs. Dempster as a mother figure ends up being emotionally scarring to Dunstan because his primary emotional response to her is guilt and pity. Dunstan now sees women as weak and in need of constant care all of which he blames on himself. Having two mother figures, both of which unusual left Dunstan with a warped idea of what a woman should be making it impossible for him to develop a healthy relationship with any woman he deemed motherly or feminine.
Paul’s psychological trauma also comes from his mother, Mrs. Dempster. Paul’s mother is the only example of a woman that Paul knows because he becomes a pariah because of her. The community shuns him because of his mother leading him to resent her. He also grows up with a sense of guilt due to his belief that he is the reason for his mother’s disability. Paul does care for his mother as can be seen by his actions towards Boy Stanton later in the novel, but his view of her is warped. Paul grows watching his primary example of women being weak, silly and burdening. Because of this his only two emotional responses to his mother figure and only female companion is resent and guilt which, leads him to have a harsh view on women who are motherly.
Finally, there’s Boy; he is unique because his warped anima did not come from his mother but instead came from Mrs. Dempster. Boy is responsible for Mrs. Dempster’saccident, even though he denies it years later when he talks to Dunstan and they say “‘You have no recollection of Mrs. Demptser.’ ‘None at all. Why should I?’” (Davies 267). Boy represses the memories of Mrs. Dempster because his mind cannot handle the guilt and emotions that come from that experience. However, the psychological damage remains just not the memories. Boy before the accident is a spoiled, bratty little boy and when the accident happens Boy faces so much guilt and trauma that it emotionally staunches him so when he becomes an adult he still has the same spoiled, bratty attitude he had as a child. The accident with Mrs. Dempsteralso gave Boy an inflated sense of power. If he could ruin Mrs. Dempster life with just the throw of a rock, think of what else he could do. This experience gave Boy a view of women as weak and easy to destroy if needed. The accident led Boy to believe he could bend any woman if he willed it. The guilt mixed with the sense of power made Boy into someone who needed to mow down all that was in front of him.
The experiences of their youth made all three of the men in the novel incapable of forming connections with women properly; this inevitably leads them to hurt many women throughout their lives.