Conventions of Reality in Fifth Business and an Encounter and The Dead
Albert Camus once wrote, “Unless we choose to ignore reality, we must find our values in it.” More often, as human nature, one goes through a period of epiphany where they embark on a journey where they recognize reality and the flaws which reside within it. In the novel Fifth Business by Robertson Davies and in the short stories “An Encounter” and “The Dead” in Dubliners by James Joyce, this similar journey is taken part by the main characters, as they are able to become aware of the entrapment caused by living through conventionality. They yearn for escape to discover the value of the essence which is lacking in their lives; however, while Dunsten devotes his life to become an individual, the characters within Dubliners base their lives off of following conventionality. Through self-individuation, one must identify and break away from the conventions of reality to establish one’s own essence in life.
The conventional views upheld by the society spirals one’s life into a state of entrapment. One becomes both physically and psychologically trapped because their lives lack freedom, as they are forced to follow everything through strict guidelines. In Fifth Business, this is portrayed through the description of Deptford’s citizens as they prefer to keep their traditional culture and isolate characters who reside outside their traditional ways. For example, Mrs Dempster is labelled as simple for having “having delicacy of hair that was uncommon”, “unable to carry normal motherly tasks”, although she came from wealthy family, where she had little to no responsibility. They become strict on how people should function in the town and falsely label her, overlooking possible reasons which may have caused her to remain at a state. Having unique deficiencies becomes an unacceptable aspect in town. In addition, the description of Deptford itself exemplifies the confinement within the town as it is described having the “walls of Jerusalem”. Literally, Deptford is enclosed from its surroundings signifying how they desire a lack of change.
The barrier becomes a representation of the mindset of its citizens and limiting the knowledge in Deptford. Within the town’s library, ironically, there is a ban placed o “Saints and magic”, disallowing knowledge which may potentially threat the state of the town both present and the future. Similarly, this is portrayed through the short story “An Encounter”, as Dillon is warned by the priest to stay away from Indian books while enforcing him to learn Roman History at school. This relates to the similar concept of limiting knowledge as ironically, teachers are discouraging children to explore new concepts in life. Rather, they promote the children to continue learning history, symbolic of how they are essentially encouraging the children to remain within the passive state portraying how they desire the children to retain the traditional Roman Catholic culture through their lives. As children are told their limitations on knowledge, they lack a sense of freedom; having no control over their own lives and them life resides in a state of paralysis, like the people within Deptford. As Dunsten recalls these memories of the past while the children become “confused with a puffy face” from the teacher’s actions, they are able to identify the absurdity behind the social conventionality leading their lives to paralysis.
Through identifying the social conventionality, one becomes increasingly isolated as one long for escape. This journey of escape becomes the start of the self-individuation, the separation from humanity, where they break out of social conventionality and gain self-knowledge. In Fifth business, this is portrayed through the social isolation as Dunsten becomes “longing for escape” the more time he spends with Mrs. Dempster. He begins to perceive things from different perspective, the perspective seen through Mrs. Dempster rather than the Deptford way. Thus, the “passing of time, brings in more isolations”, as he becomes physically detached from society, working in a secluded library, alienated by his colleagues and his family. As Dunsten spends more time with Mrs. Dempster, his relationship with his mother breaks off as well as his social status within his school, where his becomes only a “nuisance”. The more Dunsten wants to retract from the Deptford culture; he no longer becomes a functional citizen of Deptford and an outsider.
In the end, he has no purpose to remain in Deptford and created like an impostor by his friends and family, instead of “showing virtue, dignity and even of nobility” that makes up Deptford’s pride. Likewise, in Dubliners, in both “The Dead” and “An Encounter”, the characters suffer isolation as a result of their desire for escape from the conventional world. “Hungering again for wild sensation for the escape”, and the narrator’s escape to the island, signify the social isolation as he detracts from the society overrun by the Roman Catholic and the further he goes, he confronts a more illusive world filled with “biscuits and chocolate” and “hills”. These jovial aspects represent how they have been released and isolated from the harsh society back at the school and the freedom, represented through the objects, that they have finally uncovered, Similarly, in “The Dead”, as Gabriel is struck by the epiphany of the death of his wife’s ex-lover, as he himself goes through the process of self-individuation, he becomes psychologically isolated. The “air in his room is chilled” with everything “one by one becoming shades”, portraying the darkness he resides in, in which is not only a separation from his wife physically but also from his conscious self. As he is confronts with the darkness, it depicts how he is in contact with his subconscious mind and in deep contemplation. As these characters go through the process of self-individuation and become isolated, they are met with the option of reverting back to living through conventionality or continuing to escape from it. This choice becomes essential to whether one finds one’s values or not.
One must overcome the isolation and overcome the conventionality of reality in order to establish one’s own essence in life. By preventing oneself from being influence by the society to revert back to living through conventions, one is able to break out of paralysis and establish oneself as an individual. For example, in Fifth Business, Dunsten continued to strive to be unique, apart from the citizens of Deptford and gain knowledge on aspects that were restricted in Deptford. As a result, Dunsten was able to become “a man in appearance”, depicting the physical growth upon continuing to establish himself as an individual.
Furthermore, changing his name from Dunstable to Dunsten becomes symbolic of his growth. His name-change depicts how he breaks the little ties he has left which associates himself with Deptford, symbolic of the actions he takes in order to establish his own individual self. In the end, Dunsten is able to become more psychologically aware and spiritual to the extent that he is able to release himself from the guilt of the snowball incident. However, in Dubliners, the characters revert back to the social conventions. In “The Dead”, Gabriel’s own identity fades out” and he yearns to walk into the snow, “on his journey westward” as he desires to follow the direction of the wind and follow a life of conventionality which will lead him to snow, symbolic of the empty life which await him. His identifies the world as “grey and impalpable” but as he reverts back to returning to this world, it portrays how his life will be the same, lacking any essence. Unlike Dunsten, he regresses in both spiritual and psychological growth as the society has control over him rather than himself and ultimately, he would become soulless. While Dunsten’s life blossoms, the character’s lives in Dubliners lives’ lack meaning, controlled by society and ultimately, their lives are halt, in a state of paralysis.
One must break out of the entrapment created through social conventions in order to establish one’s own essence in society. In both Fifth Business and Dubliners, characters lives were over-run by conventions and through a distinct epiphany; they were able to recognize the need for escape. However, while Dunsten was able to continue his journey of escaping from conventions and establishing himself as an individual, the characters in Dubliners returned to the ways of the society and their lives ultimately lacked meaning. Ultimately, while Dunsten’s life is “complete”, the characters in Dubliners await a similar fate to Percy Boyd, a character in Fifth Business who devoted his life to following the conventions of materialism. Each character is fated to die unless they are able to find their values, of the need to establish one’s own essence
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