Guilt Essays - Fifth Business

Guilt stemming from traumatic childhood experiences is a theme that runs throughout both The Fifth Business and “The Manticore”, both by Robertson Davies. As this essay will argue, although nearly all of the main characters have ties to this theme, in “Fifth Business”, Dunstan is most significantly affected by it and even more importantly, the guilt that stems from events in youth seem to shape the entire course his life takes. While Dunstan attempts to reconcile past events with the overwhelming guilt that encompasses much of his identity, other characters such as Paul and Boy Staunton attempt to deal with their guilt and negative childhood experiences as well, albeit in quite different ways.

What emerges by the end of “Fifth Business” is a pattern of experience, guilt, and then reconciliation that resurfaces throughout the following book in the series, “The Manticore”. If there is any general statement to be made about guilt and its impact on the lives of the characters in both “Fifth Business” and “The Manticore”, it is that reconciliation is essentially before true identity can be revealed. Although it sometimes takes death or other extreme measures to reach such a state, without making peace with it one’s life can never be fully realized. This is certainly true with Dunstan and the theme continues with David Staunton. At the beginning of “The Fifth Business”, there is a brief argument about a sled that takes place between a group of boys living in a small town. This is an innocent introduction to the characters but things take a dramatic turn when Percy (later known simply as “Boy") throws a snowball with a piece of granite as Donny but it hits the pregnant Mrs. Dempster, causing her to go into labor prematurely with her son, Paul, as well as begin the slow decline into insanity. This event, which was a complete accident, has an incredible impact on Dunny and causes him to be plagued with a guilt that he carries with him to an old age. It is clear from the very moment the event takes place that a guilt cycle is forming when Dunstan states in one of the important quotes from “Fifth Business” by Robertson Davies, “I was contrite and guilty, for I knew the snowball had been meant for me, but the Dempsters did not seem to think that" (Fifth Business 3). Dunstan’s initial guilt stems from the fact that he inadvertently caused Paul’s early birth and subsequent ill health.

When Paul is born, he is a pathetic creature and “his cry was like the mew of a kitten" (Fifth Business 13) which makes the reader begin to understand (at least in part) the circumstances which warrant so much guilt from such a young boy. Furthermore, even after he was asked repeatedly about what happened he could not bring himself to reveal who threw the snowball in the first place. This was added on top of the fact that Dunny felt that he was also responsible for causing the ensuing insanity of Mrs. Dempster and explains why, throughout various stages of his life, he gave her so much thought and was so mystified and enthralled with her. In addition to this, the guilt that Dunny harbors leads him to go to war, especially since he is also faced with even more guilt about so close to Mrs. Dempster. The fact that he sees her in his vision as a saint is also important because it does not allow him to sever his connection with his past (and its associated guilt) but rather, it perpetuates it and leads him to an ever deeper study of saints and mysticism (Wood 24) It is also Dunstan who introduces the young Paul to magic tricks which sparks an interest that will eventually lead him away from his mother and into a life far away. This guilt is even further carried out when, after taking care of Mrs. Dempster throughout her life, he stops visiting her and feels responsible for her death. In short, there is no aspect of Dunstan’s life that is untouched in some way by guilt. Everything that he does is either something he does to consciously or unconsciously perpetuate the endless cycle until his life begins to lack an independent meaning or value.

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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