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The Seemingly Innocuous Life Of Dunstan Ramsey: "Fifth Business" By Robertson Davies

1117 words - 4 pages

Although Dunstan’s life seemed to be innocuous, he is successful in proving that he had a life outside the classroom. Society is functional on the simple factor that people work. If people do not work, society will become chaotic. How does one manage to have a life outside of work? Robertson Davis, the author of the novel Fifth business, demonstrates that Dunstan Ramsey, (main character) has a life outside of the classroom. He accomplishes this by showing Dunstan’s obsession with four other characters in the novel. This obsession compensates for Dunstan’s minimal life. His relationships with Paul Dempster, Boy Staunton, Mary Dempster and Leola, along with the direct link to occurrences help prove he had a life outside of the classroom.Dunstan is retiring from teaching at a Canadian school. There is a tribute presented to him, however he does not believe it justifies his life so he sets out to prove them wrong by writing a defence to his life. Thus, explaining the values of his life in terms of fifth business, the novel. Don’t completely understand? The novel is substantially a letter to the headmaster, hoping to prove that he had a life outside the classroom. “And that, headmaster, is all I have to tell you.” Chapter 7 pg. 257 Now you may be asking yourself, what is fifth business? Simply put, it is a character from an opera that has no opposites: it is the odd man out, who is neither heroine nor lover, neither rival nor villain. If one reads between the lines, it is easy to see that Dunstan is Fifth business. In chapter 5, Liselotte Vitziputzli, fifth business herself, tries to explain to Dunstan who he is, rather than what he is."Who are you? Where do you fit into poetry and myth? Do you know who I think you are, Ramsay? I think you are Fifth Business. "You don't know what that is? Well, in opera in a permanent company of the kind we keep up in Europe you must have a prima donna -- always a soprano, always the heroine, often a fool; and a tenor who always plays the lover to her; and then you must have a contralto, who is a rival to the soprano, or a sorceress or something; and a basso, who is the villain or the rival or whatever threatens the tenor."So far, so good. But you cannot make a plot work without another man, and he is usually a baritone, and he is called in the profession Fifth Business, because he is the odd man out, the person who has no opposite of the other sex. And you must have Fifth Business because he is the one who knows the secret of the hero's birth, or comes to the assistance of the heroine when she thinks all is lost, or keeps the hermitess in her cell, or may even be the cause of somebody's death if that is part of the plot. The prima donna and the tenor, the contralto and the basso, get all the best music and do all the spectacular things, but you cannot manage the plot without Fifth Business! It is not spectacular, but it is a good line of work, I can tell you, and those who play it...

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