Comparing Robertson Davies' Fifth Business And Aleksandr Soltzhenitsyn's One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich

2379 words - 10 pages

Two Roads; One Bode

Many different journeys in life can result in people learning about their true inner being and the truth of others in their life. In fact, the story of a man spending his life contemplating over the guilt from his childhood can have the same common lessons as the story of a man enslaved in a Russian concentration camp. When compared, the two novels, Fifth Business by Robertson Davies and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn have many common themes which result in the characters learning about their true inner being and the truth about others around them. Fifth Business recounts the story of a man named Dunstan who writes a lettered autobiography to the headmaster of his school to explain the guilt he faced as a child and how it impacted his entire life leading up to his retirement. On the other hand, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is about the daily routine of a man named Ivan, a prisoner in a Russian concentration camp who faces harsh living conditions and daily abuse. Both men have completely different lives but both assimilate the same truths about themselves and the truth about the people around them; this is seen in the three main themes of each book illusion versus reality, rebirth and self-realization.
The reader can observe the characters learning from the first theme, illusion versus reality, distinctly in the novel Fifth Business. They first see this in the relationship between Leola and Percy. Leola is truly in love with Percy because she sees the beauty in his character. On the other side, Percy acts as if he is in love with Leola even though she is unintelligent and unsuitable for him. He is attracted to her beauty and not her personality, causing the relationship to collapse. The relationship becomes so weak that Percy does not even go to her funeral. Secondly, Dunstan comes to realize that the way society views Mary Dempster is completely different from the reality of her true inner being. Dunstan states, “She lived by a light that arose from within; I could not comprehend it.” (Davies, 52). The reality of Mrs. Dempster is that she is a miracle performing saint throughout the book, however the entire town (except for Dunstan) views her as a devil who does not deserve to live. It can be observed that saints can be seen as abnormal to people because they have views that may seem abnormal to mainstream society. In this way, many saints in the world do get viewed as abnormal during the beginning of their spiritual awakening. For example, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism, was viewed this way because he wanted help society and live a simple life away from the greed of money and materialism. People viewed this as odd during the time, “Some [said] poor Nanak is a sprite, some [said] that he is a demon, Others again that he is a man (mere mortal).” [Raag Maru, Mahala 1, p.991 SGGS]. In the same way Mrs.Dempster is viewed negatively for what she stands for, this teaches...

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