Self-Discovery in Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business – Essay – yonghanyao
Self-Discovery in Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business
Chloe YaoMr. UhrichEnglish A3014 March 2016Self-discovery in Robertson Davies’ Fifth BusinessRobertson Davies explores in Fifth Business the conflict between the understanding of the self as something to be escaped from or something to be sought. The story is narrated by Dunstan Ramsay and is about his life experience from childhood to middle years. However, the novel is not merely a memoir written by Dunstan to the Headmaster, but a confession of himself posturing as other people. Through the process of self-discovery, Dunstan comes to term with the nature of self and eventually realizes his unique role in life. Dunstan’s life is made up of two journeys – an outer one and an inner one. In his outer journey, he struggles with the presence of his shadow, which he recognizes in the end is the public life of Fifth Business. He had been making an effort to suppress his dark self. In his inner journey, he tries to live a private, spiritual life and seeks his true inner self through travelling and learning. Eventually, the ending allegorically suggests that Dunstan destroys the opposing forces in his life and lives as himself. Dunstan’s outer journey is largely made through his association with Percy Boy Staunton. Dunstan portrays Boy as an opposite to himself, “to [Boy] the reality of life lay in external things, whereas for me the only reality was of the spirit – of the mind”(106). He despises Boy because he loses his soul in exchange for money and power, but he also admires and envies his business talent and achievements. He defends Boy for his “genius at making money”, but in the meantime, he reveals that he is annoyed by the fact that Boy’s success can be considered luck, while his achievement in the arts only makes people call him a “crook”(143). Dunstan insists on living in his own spiritual world and yet he learns to profit from Boy’s financial help. These contradictions and ironies in Dunstan’s words reveal that Dunstan is not capable of throwing off the material world set against his pursuit of inner peace. Rather than a foil to Dunstan, Boy is more likely to be a shadow, which means a “suppressed, unconscious personality” (Moss, 55) within Dunstan’s own character that he has to overcome. At this point, instead of standing out against Boy, who is his shadow, Dunstan has been playing the role of Fifth Business who serves Boy meekly and cannot be free of his influence. Although he later accuses Boy of his “psychological suicide” (231) and urges him to come to know himself, Dunstan is unaware of his shadow projecting its image onto Boy. Besides Boy, there are some other characters in this journey that represent the falseness in Dunstan’s character that needs to be overthrown. Leola represents his vanity and immaturity, as she is merely a trophy of conquest between Boy and Dunstan, not his true love. Paul Dempster, who lives in a mysterious world that Dunstan desires to put himself in, represents Dunstan’s illusion, “untruthfulness, and egotism of a child” that he feels are destructive to his character (205). Even though Dunstan goes on an inner journey, he confesses that he never “wholly” left Deptford in the “spirit” (100), which reveals that he will be conscious that his true self consists of other Deptford people’s spirits in spite of his attempts to escape and suppress them. His inner journey is where he absorbs the knowledge of the world and finally transforms it into self-knowledge. Dunstan’s persistent efforts on saint-seeking and obsession with mythology are based on his strong belief that a serious study of knowledge will reveal to him “the true end of men”(161). The effect of his subconscious experience is profound as it guides Dunstan closer to the psychological truth, which only lies in his mind. In his journey, Father Blazon enlightens him to pursue the inward spirit and Lisel reinforces it by pointing out his incapability to live as a rational human. Through the his own inner experience and these enlightenments, it seems that Dunstan comes to recognize the problem of himself – if he is going to live, he has to see himself as he is by knowing his role in life. Dunstan indeed discovers his role of Fifth Business when he is in the room talking with Boy and Paul about his burden guilt for Mary Dempster. He not only accepts his role, but also confronts his shadow side – his Fifth Business side. He rejects Boy for his irresponsibility, immaturity, and lack of spiritual awareness. He urges him to “be a human being”(254), as if he is referring to his shadow self. Dunstan earlier admits that “… the cloaks [Boy and I] had wrapped about our essential selves were wearing thin”(233), leading to his final recognition of his essential self with the shadow of Boy. In the end, the reader is not allowed to witness Boy’s death and it remains a mystery. Rather than letting people find out whether it is a murder or suicide, Davis prefers to describe it ambiguously. Instead of focusing on the action of murder committed by the Fifth Business, Davis gives the ending a larger significance by making it seem to be a psychological overthrow of Dunstan’s shadow self. The overthrow shows Dunstan’s realization that if he does not destroy the shadow, the shadow will destroy him and he will live in a spiritless life.
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(2016, 04). Self-Discovery in Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business. EssaysForStudent.com. Retrieved 04, 2016, from