Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

Summary of the work - Sykalo Eugen 2023

Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

"Fifth Business" by Robertson Davies is a wonderfully complex and multi-layered novel that delves into the intricacies of human nature, the power of myth, and the interplay between fate and free will. The story is set in the small Canadian town of Deptford and follows the life of Dunstan Ramsay, a man who is haunted by a single event from his childhood that shapes his entire life.

The novel is divided into three parts, and each part is narrated by Dunstan himself. The first part, "Mrs. Dempster," introduces us to Dunstan as a child and his relationship with Mrs. Dempster, a woman who is later institutionalized and becomes a source of fascination for Dunstan throughout his life. This part of the novel is critical as it sets the stage for the themes of guilt, redemption, and identity that permeate the rest of the book. Dunstan's life takes a turn when he witnesses a tragic event that leaves him feeling guilty and responsible for the rest of his life. This event, which involves Mrs. Dempster, shapes Dunstan's entire life and becomes the driving force behind his search for redemption.

In the second part, "The Fifth Business," Dunstan moves to Toronto and becomes a teacher, but he never forgets his past. This section of the novel introduces a number of interesting characters, including the enigmatic magician Magnus Eisengrim, who becomes a key figure in Dunstan's life. Dunstan also becomes involved in the theater and works behind the scenes to help bring the plays to life. This part of the novel explores the role of art in human life and its ability to shape our understanding of the world around us.

The third part, "Return of the Hero," brings the story full circle as Dunstan returns to Deptford to attend a reunion. He confronts the people from his past, including his childhood friend and rival, and finally comes to terms with the guilt that has been haunting him for his entire life. This part of the novel ties together all the loose ends and brings the story to a satisfying conclusion.

Throughout the novel, Davies explores the themes of guilt, identity, and the power of myth. Dunstan's guilt over the tragic event from his childhood shapes his entire life and drives him to seek redemption. He also struggles with his own identity and the role he plays in the world. Magnus Eisengrim, the magician, represents the power of myth and the role it plays in shaping our lives. The novel shows how myths and legends can be used to understand the world around us and how they can help us make sense of our place in it.

Overall, "Fifth Business" is a masterpiece of Canadian literature that explores the complexities of human nature and the power of myth. Davies weaves together a complex narrative that explores the themes of guilt, identity, and the interplay between fate and free will. The novel is a must-read for anyone interested in exploring the depths of the human psyche and will leave readers with a deeper understanding of the world around them.