Monday, May 30, 2011
Fifth Business: Origin, Nature and Burden of Guilt
In Robertson Davies’s Fifth Business, the concept of guilt is an important component in the development of many major characters within the novel. Guilt is defined as a feeling of responsibility for some offense or crime. Throughout the novel, Robertson Davies utilizes the motif of guilt in order to express the feelings of certain characters. He also employs the logic behind their decision-making. The concept of guilt influences many characters, especially in the lives of Percy Staunton, Paul Dempster, and Dunstable ...view middle of the document...
At young age Percy establishes that avoiding a problem is a practical solution. This also shows that Percy has chosen to allow his guilt to accumulate, deliberately attempting to control it.
The second character that is greatly affected by guilt is Paul Dempster. Paul plays an important role in showing the effect guilt has on the development of a characters identity. During the first stages of the novel, Paul deals with guilt in a manner similar to Boy, through avoidance. The concept of guilt is introduced to Paul very early in his life after his premature birth causes his mother to become “simple”. His father and the community are always reminding Paul that it was his fault that his mother is the way she is. Which consequently makes him feel guilty about his own existence. Paul’s solution to this problem is to create a new identity for himself by leaving home and joining a traveling circus. When asked about his early childhood events, Paul replies, “My father always told me that it was my birth that robbed her of her sanity. So as a child I had to carry the weight of my mother’s madness as something of my own doing . . . a dirty joke” (Davies 139-140). This quote shows that the way Paul was treated as a child had negative effects on him, leaving him with no choice but to look for a new identity. As the novel progresses, so does Paul’s outlook on his past. Paul is able to finish the transformation from boy to man. Paul realizes that he can no longer contain his guilt, and the only way to handle with his past is to resolve his issues with his mother. Since his parents aren’t still alive, Paul selects a new target to begin his revenge on Boy. Boy frequently made rude comments towards Paul and his mother, and felt no sorrow when Paul confronted him regarding it. Patricia Monk describes “Boy Staunton has forgotten, we learn, about the snowball incident, and because he has forgotten it, he feels no guilt for having injured her: it is not on his conscience. Ramsay, therefore, in keeping the stone and keeping the memory alive, acts as Staunton's conscience.” This reveals a comparison between Boy and Paul, and shows that Paul has developed a conscience of his own while Boy is still forced to confide in Dunstan. In conclusion, guilt negatively affected Paul at an early age, and is a important factor in examining his decision-making process, especially towards Boy.
The effects guilt has on one’s life is best shown throughout the novel through the life and decision-making of Dunstan Ramsay. The snowball incident during the beginning stages of the novel forever tangled guilt as a major aspect in...