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Posted on April 19th, 2012, by

The Fifth Business by Robertson Davies describes a life of Dunstan Ramsay, the protagonist of the novel. The Fifth Business contains a lot of autobiographical details which add personal style to the narration. Robertson Davies and his protagonist, Dunstan Ramsay, have a lot in common. The novel is set in small Canadian town. The author of the novel also grew up in small city and many events he describes in his novel are taken from his own past.

The novel is written in the form of first person narration. The novel shows the life from the perspective of  the narrator and most events he describes have already happened. Many critics consider The Fifth Business to be semi-autobiographical novel because a lot of facts and events from the novel represent the facts from Davies’s biography.

In general Davies used his life experience for many of his works and The Fifth Business, his the most successful novel, did not become an exception. The author was born and spent his childhood in the small Canadian town called Thamesville. The novel is set in Deptford, another small town which has so much in common with the native town of the author.

Robertson Davies implemented psychological concepts in his works and The Fifth Business also contain concepts of Jungian psychology. Ramsay was fond of Freudian and Jungian psychology and these concepts are reflected in his novel. All characters of The Fifth Business present typical Jungian archetypes. Following the ideas of Jung and Freud the author underlines importance of childhood memories. The main character visits many places and meets different people but childhood memories make main impact on his thoughts and actions. People from his native town make deep impression on the main character and determine his further life and behavior. His feeling of guilt for  Mary Dempster never leaves him. Incident which happened to Dunstan in the childhood had a strong influence over all his further life. Playing snowballs with Boy Staunton  Dunny turns away from snowball and finally Mrs. Dempster is hit.

This results in the feeling of guild and responsibility over the life of Mary Dempster and her son Paul. “I was perfectly sure, you see, that the birth of Paul Dempster, so small, so feeble and troublesome, was my fault” (Davies 22).

There are several reasons which caused such a strong feeling of guilt. Dunny was raised in religious family. His mother was Presbyterian and followed her religion with great passion.  This upbringing definitely had a great impact on Dunny’s outlook and all further life. Strict rules and feeling of guilt were main methods used by Dunny’s mother.

This finally results in Dunny’s obsession with his guilt. He blamed himself for coincidence and this feeling of guilt became one of the main motifs of all his actions and decisions. “I was contrite and guilty, for what I knew that the snowball had been meant for me” (Davies 11).

Dunny feels lack of freedom and opportunities in his small town. At the age of sixteen he decides to leave it. In addition, tensed relations with his family make Dunny to look for the opportunities to escape pressure of her mother.

As he himself comments on their relations: “I knew she had eaten my father, and I was glad I did not have to fight any longer to keep her from eating me” (Davies 81).  He fulfills his decision and quits secondary school and joins the army. His desire to leave his native town and his family was so strong that he even turns to lies in order to escape his life in  Deptford: ” I was nearly two years under age, but I was tall and strong and a good liar” (Davies 64).

The guilt he felt because of accident with Mrs. Dempster was one of the reasons of such decision. Living in small town where all people new each other Dunny could not forget about a sad accident of his childhood. He had to meet Mrs. Dempster often and each time it became a sad reminder of tragic events.  This tragic accident had also changed Dunny’s relations with his friend and rival Boy Staunton. An accident which has changed Dunny’s life forever did not have a big influence on Boy. He continued his normal life. Moreover, Boy used Dunny’s absence and began a relationship with Leola, a girl Dunny loved. This sad ending of his love affair affected all Dunny’s relationship. His other relations could not satisfy him because all his feelings and emotions where stuck in the past. His marriage with  Diana Marfleet, a nurse from England was soon destroyed. The protagonists does not believe in any kind of successful relationship with woman. Speaking about Diana he mentions:  “She had fallen in love with me because she felt she had made whatever I was out of a smashed-up and insensible hospital case; but I don’t think it was long before she was just as sure as I that our marriage would never have worked” (Davies 93). Despite the failure of relationship Diana became and extremely important person for the protagonist. “I liked the idea of new name, it suggested freedom and a new personality” (Davies 93).  Taking new name became a very important and symbolic act.

As the protagonist himself explains, his new name became a turning point which finally totally transformed his personality. Abandoning his old name Dunny made an effort to abandon all his previous life. He tries to forget his childhood memories, his family and his place of birth. Dunny makes a great effort to start his life again. After all atrocities of war and difficult period of uncertainty he shows a desire to start a new life. This symbolic act becomes a beginning of new epoch.

All characters reflect the life of their native town. All characters were brought up in Deptford and this town made a great influence on their childhood memories. Robertson Davies  underlines the importance of childhood experiences and all his characters support this view. Despite the protagonist does not finish secondary school and leaves his native town, trying to put a physical distance between himself and his past, which is signified by his town, Dunny fails. He can not limit himself from his past, same as he can not forget his childhood and his guilt. For Dunny his native town becomes a symbol of his past. For him his past and his childhood are associated with the feeling of guilt and pressure from his mother.  It takes him years to overcome these negative impact of his past. When he speaks about his parents he notes: “It was years before I though of the death of my parents as anything other than a relief” ( Davies 81).  Same happens to all his memories of life in Deptford. Only through personal transformation the protagonist comes in terms with his memories and his native town.

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