Fifth Business Essay Guilt Quotes

Guilt In Robertson Davies' "Fifth Business"

Guilt in Fifth Business

One feeling that may cause mixed emotions such as anger, hate, or fear, a feeling that can also cripple one's mind, is guilt. Robertson Davies' "Fifth Business" demonstrates how guilt is able to corrupt the young minds of children through the characters of Paul and Dunstan. On the other hand, he also shows how a child will suppress an incident into their unconscious mind if it makes him feel uncomfortable, or guilty through the character of Boy Staunton. The outcome of each case is unpredictable and could possibly result in lives being corrupted or constantly having feelings of guilt on ones conscience.

Dunstan Ramsay has lived his life full of guilt, feeling guilty for things he should not. During an incident involving Boy, Boy throws a snowball at Dunstan, however, Dunstan dodges the snowball and it ends up hitting the pregnant Mrs. Dempster. As a result, Mrs. Dempster gives birth prematurely to Paul shortly after. Dunstan feels that since the snowball was directed towards him, it is his fault for Paul's premature birth, "I was contrite and guilty, for I knew the snowball had been meant for me, but the Dempsters did not seem to think that" (Davies 3). Dunstan tries confronting Boy about the incident in hopes of passing the guilt on to him, however Boy denies it, leaving Dunstan no one to blame but himself, "So I was alone with my guilt, and it tortured me" (Davies 16). Dunstan's childhood is mostly spent at the Dempster's place doing chores, which could possibly be his way of making it up to them. During his daily visits to the Dempster's, Dunstan gets to know Paul and introduces him to magic. Paul eventually abandons his mother to pursue a career as a magician, leaving his mother heartbroken, which also contributes to Dunstan's feeling of guilt. Mrs. Dempster believes that Dunstan is keeping her from seeing her son in the hospital, "Dunstan Ramsay, who pretended to be a friend, was a snake-in-the-grass, an enemy, an undoubted agent of those dark forces who had torn Paul from her" (Davies 237). Dunstan also feels guilty for the death of Mrs. Dempster because he stops visiting her, and does not provide her with the care that she was in need of. The following events have significantly altered Dunstan's life, for example the books he writes and his studying of saints all relate back to Mrs. Dempster. On the whole, the several events that have made Dunstan feel guilty all revolve around the snowball incident that occurred during his childhood.

Paul Dempster comes from a damaged home, born prematurely, with an insane mother. Similarly, Paul feels guilty for the events that are not his fault, for example, he believes that his mother's insanity is...

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“Who are you? Where do you fit into poetry and myth? Do you know who I think you are, Ramsay? I think you are Fifth Business. You don't know what that is? Well, in opera in a permanent company of the kind we keep up in Europe you must have a prima donna -- always a soprano, always the heroine, often a fool; and a tenor who always plays the lover to her; and then you must have a contralto, who is a rival to the soprano, or a sorceress or something; and a basso, who is the villain or the rival or whatever threatens the tenor.
"So far, so good. But you cannot make a plot work without another man, and he is usually a baritone, and he is called in the profession Fifth Business, because he is the odd man out, the person who has no opposite of the other sex. And you must have Fifth Business because he is the one who knows the secret of the hero's birth, or comes to the assistance of the heroine when she thinks all is lost, or keeps the hermitess in her cell, or may even be the cause of somebody's death if that is part of the plot. The prima donna and the tenor, the contralto and the basso, get all the best music and do all the spectacular things, but you cannot manage the plot without Fifth Business! It is not spectacular, but it is a good line of work, I can tell you, and those who play it sometimes have a career that outlasts the golden voices. Are you Fifth Business? You had better find out.”
― Robertson Davies, Fifth Business

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