The novel Fifth Business, by Robertson Davies, is the first installment of Roberson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy. The novel is a memoir of Robertson Davies’ fictional character, Dunstan Ramsay, in the form of a letter to the school’s headmaster. Dunstan speaks of his childhood, being involved with the town fool, Mary Dempster, and his evolving interest in hieroglyphics. Fifth Business has been ranked 40th on the American Modern Library’s “reader’s list” of the 100 best novels of the 20th century.
Robertson Davies is effective in using many different literary devices in driving his plot forward. Foreshadowing is used constantly and effectively, as this is a memoir. Since this is a memoir being narrated in the first person, the reader is able to feel Dunstin’s true emotions during his many man against man and man against nature conflicts.
The author’s development of Dunstan as a protagonist is useful in pushing the plot forward. “After a few weeks during which I was miserable because of the village talk, I sneaked over there on day and peeped in the window” (46) Although the town frowned upon Mary Dempster after her incident at the gravel pit, Dunstan continues to visit Mary, sharing the latest gossip of the town, because she is not allowed the daily newspaper. Dunstan is a very modest character, “Where Boy lived high, I lived – well, not low, but on in the way congenial to myself.” (111), he is happy with the bare necessities in life and asks for nothing more.
The other characters in the novel are seen from Dunstan’s eyes and the reader’s opinion on the characters is based on Dunstan’s feelings toward them. The author’s diction is also effective in developing characters. When Dunstan meets up with Milo after the war to discuss the goings on of the town while Dunstan was away, the authors word choice with phrases such as, “Jeez, Dunny, this is the first time I ever give you a haircut” (101), and his repetition of the words “jeez” and “eh?” gives the reader an image of Milo being uneducated. Amasa Dempster is perceived as an antagonist, constantly removing important aspects of Dunstan’s life from him. He first tries to “preserve me from walking with a forward mouth” (34), which means he is trying to distance Dunstan from Mary Dempster. Also, Amasa attempts to stop Dunstan from teaching his son card tricks while he watches him.
Davies’ diction is also effective in creating imagery for the reader. When Mary Dempster is lost in the gravel pit, he creates an image of a very dark and...