A railroad line is shown in the background as workers slave away at finishing the Canadian Pacific Rail line, which will run through all of Canada. Finally, the last stake is driven into the rail line thus completing it, rendering it useful for many years to come and effecting the lives of many in the present and future.
The purpose of this essay is to reveal the importance of Canadian history in the novel Fifth Business by Robertson Davies. Fifth Business was written as a reflection of Robertson Davies’s life but also serves as a viewpoint of Canadian life in the early twentieth century. The novel is written accordingly to sequence of events in Canadian history; this allows Davies to shape the plot of the novel around these historical events. Canadian history plays a large role in the first half of the novel, which launches Dunstan Ramsay into a series of trials that develop his character and personality. Such as the Canadian Pacific Railway had united Canada, the same history would link the characters together, develop the characters, and drive the plot of the novel. The two most important historical events within the novel are The Great Depression and World War I.
During The Great Depression, many individuals were had lost their fortunes and property due to the crash in the stock market. Many could not even merely afford to buy anything but necessities such as food. Luckily, Boy Staunton was unaffected by the stock crash since his father was in the sugar business, which was a necessity in the household. Boys’ wealth was built upon his keenness in the stock market before and during the crash. When the stock market crashed, he had been fortunate enough to survive through the depression. Even though times were hard Boy had found ways of making money through solaces (p.149) and his sugar factory. Boy had always felt responsible for Dunny because of the snowball incident and had helped Dunny manage his money to make a fair amount of income. Having Boy handling his income, Dunny would also be able to survive in the course of the depression. The depression was a point in the novel where Boy had been at one of his low points. Boys’ relationship with Leola was already having problems two years before the stock market crash, but as the depression arrived, Boy spent more time making money than investing his time in something more valuable, Leola. If the stock market crash were to never occur then Boy would not have been able to make a considerable amount of money, which in turn, would not allow Dunny to travel through Europe in search of his fool saint, Mrs. Dempster.
Dunnys’ encounter of the Madonna at a point in World War I offset his interest in religion and saints. While at battle, Dunny was severely wounded and had managed to barely escape. As Dunny struggled for survival he came across a statue that appeared to look exactly like Mrs. Dempster. In Dunnys’ mind, he had always regarded Mrs. Dempster as a saint for her miracles and this had sparked his interests in religion and saints. If not for the war, a significant amount of events would not have occurred such as Willie dying at St. Eloi Craters and Dunny losing his leg in the 3rd Battle of Ypres. After Dunny had awoken from the battle, he had found himself in the hospital and met his savior Diana. Diana in a way had given Dunny a second chance at life, reincarnation in a way. His view of the world had radically changed after the war. Dunny was no longer a child who had secret fantasies about Mrs. Dempster but was a man, Dunstan. World War I was a turning point in the novel in which Dunnys’ character was reborn. It is significant that he goes to fight in the war. During the war, Dunny loses all of his family. Willie dies in battle and his parents pass away in an influenza epidemic. At that instant Dunny was completely alone, the only thing that drove him was his obsession to find the Madonna.
Canadian history plays a large role in the novel. Due to events in history, Dunny goes through several changes or rebirths in the novel. Boys’ wealth is also largely based on history due to the stock market and World War I. Historical events are used to drive the plot of the novel so that the novels characters are able to fully develop and feed the very existence of which they live upon. In Boys’ case his very existence was based on capitalism, without the stock market or World War I, he would not have been able to construct such a hefty fortune. World War I largely shaped Dunny; he had encountered the Madonna that would send him through a spiritual trip of enlightenment through Europe. Canadian history in Fifth Business is a fifth business to the novel itself. History assists bringing the characters together, where they find fulfillment from one another. An example would be Boy helping Dunny with the stock market since he had always felt guilty for the snowball incident. Without history playing a role as a fifth business to the characters, the novel would only be left with the bookends. In fact, if the war and stock market crash were to never occur, all that would transpire would be a crazy lady getting hit by a snowball and a boy who would go to her house to care for her.