Theme of Religion in Robertson Davies’ Novel Fifth Business
Religion plays an important role in Robertson Davies’ novel Fifth Business. There are many religious characters portrayed of a variety of faiths and denominations who are all very different but critical to the novel. The three most significant religious leaders are Amasa Dempster, Reverend Leadbeater and Padre Blazon.
In Davies’ work, religion and faith are closely linked to morality and identity. Every character has a different view and approach on the matter of religion and therefore their identity is shaped in different ways as a result, highlighting the different possible interpretations and presenting a large selection of characters. In Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business, religious leaders are portrayed in a variety of fashions to show the influence of faith on their individual identity, their perception among others, and their influence on the identities of those around them.
There are several significant religious leaders in the novel, all portrayed in different manners to highlight the important effect religion has on identity in shaping a character’s life. Amasa Dempster is the Baptist preacher and a very devoted man, both to his wife and his faith. The importance and belief he places in his religion shape his life as all his views and actions are centered around it and he dies praying. When his son was born prematurely in poor health and he was “christened immediately despite doctor’s objections” on Dempster’s wishes without regard for possible negative consequences (Davies 11).
He enforces his beliefs on his wife, Mary Dempster, and their relationship was greatly affected by his religious beliefs. His morals were hindered by his devotion to religion, and he tied up his wife in “disorder and discomfort” to prevent her from embarrassing him further. He was too preoccupied throughout his life worrying about the afterlife rather than reality, and “impos[ing] religion as he understood it on everything he knew or encountered” (Davies 44). On the other hand, Padre Blazon was a Jesuit member of the Bollandist Society.
Although he is portrayed as very eccentric and odd, he is nonetheless very devoted to his religion. Since a young age, he was a perfect model of a Jesuit almost “too good to be true” and still follows all the beliefs and customs, such as abstinence, throughout his life to his old age. (Davies 163). Blazon lived his entire life completely devoted to his religion into his old age and was never tempted to stray from his morals. These two religious leaders, despite vastly different approaches, both show their devotion to their individual faiths and further emphasizes the message that religion can manifest in different ways and identity is shaped by many things.
In terms of perception and popularity, the religious leaders portrayed in the novel are eccentric and have distinct character traits and personalities to further emphasize Davies’ purpose of illustrating Canadian complexity throughout his work. Padre Blazon is considered an outsider among the Jesuits and other members of the Bollandist society mostly due to his age and seemingly weird habits and beliefs, especially regarding Christ (Davies 164). However, he did not care what others thought of him and he pursued his own interests and life without his beliefs being influenced. In contrast, Amasa Dempster was pitied in Deptford as a result of the actions of his wife, and from worry of being greatly judged, he moved to a small cottage on the outskirts of town.
There were not many involved in the life of his family except for Dunstan, who he banned for bringing “corruption into the innocent world of childhood” when he discovered Paul was learning magic (Davies 33). Different characters were all very complex and had different views towards their images in society.
Additionally, the actions and beliefs of religious leaders influenced the lives of others as well. Amasa Dempster’s beliefs greatly influenced the life and identity of his son, Paul Dempster. although he grew up Baptist and can still quote the Bible in profusion, he is an atheist and created a new identity for himself. Paul grew up in a very religious household and was a “pitifully neglected child”, but the knowledge is still ingrained in his brain (Davies 45). However, he rejected the religious morals taught by his father when he ran away as he adopted his illusions and his new devotion to magic as a new kind of reality to rebel against his upbringing.
Another religious leader to consider is Reverend Leadbeater, who despite being a catholic priest, has very materialistic interests, contrary to the usual worldly nature of religious leaders. His capital-friendly beliefs are a very different extreme portrayal in comparison to other leaders. He is idolised by Boy Staunton who is intrigued by his views and actions. Leadbeater carries semi-precious gemstones around in his pocket and Staunton believes the idea of him exiting first-class is inconceivable (Davies 111). Their interactions greatly influenced and supported Staunton’s further determination to change his identity to better conform to high-class capitalist society in the aim of becoming more successful, even at the cost of losing his morals. These influences demonstrate how even if a person is not religious, religion can still play an important role in their life, and religious leaders are portrayed to be influential.
In conclusion, religion was an important topic throughout the book and religious leaders were portrayed in different ways to emphasize how faith contributes to a person’s identity and influences not only their morality, but the lives of those around them. Although there were many important characters in the novel, the most significant to analyse in Dunstan’s life as the story is told from his perspective, are Amasa Dempster, Padre Blazon and Reverend Leadbeater.
The great variety of people and views portrayed regarding religion throughout the novel reflect Robertson Davies’ purpose of illustrating Canadian complexity by including so many interesting and diverse characters.
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