Robertson Davies novel, Fifth Business, revolves around guilt, competition,
and two men who are foils of each other. Although Dunstan Ramsay and Percy Boyd
Staunton are parallels to each other, they contrast in a great number of ways.
Their awkward relationship plays a significant role in the number of elements
which make Fifth Business such an interesting story.
While Dunstan Ramsay had
never been too interested in competing with Percy Boyd Staunton, Percy from a
young age saw Dunny as a rival. When Percys brand new expensive sled isnt
as fast as Dunnys, Percy gets angry and throws a snowball at Dunny, which in
turn begins the setting for the novel. The two continue to compete throughout
the novel, for things such as Leolas love, military recognition, and more.
Percys and Dunstans characters contrast in many ways. The most prominent
way in which they contrast is their values.
Dunstan values spiritual things,
while Percy values only material things. Percy is impressed by and yearns for
money, while Dunstan could care less about it. Dunstan explains his lack of
desire for materialistic things: Where Boy lived high, I lived - well, not low,
but in the way congenial to myself. I thought twenty-four dollars was plenty for
a ready-made suit, and four dollars a criminal price for a pair of shoes.
changed my shirt twice a week and my underwear once. I had not yet developed any
expensive tastes and saw nothing wrong with a good boarding-house. (Page 113)
This shows us that where as Percy was in pursuit of money and possessions,
Dunstan was concerned elsewhere. Dunstan bluntly states that Percy was
materialistic: To him the reality was of life lay in external things, whereas
for me the only reality was of the spirit - of mind. (Page 114) Dunstan is in a
search for inner truth and spirituality, and Percy is searching for outer beauty
and appearances. Another way in which the two contrast is that while Dunstan
leaves a lot of events in his life up to chance, Percy wants everyone, and
everything in control- in his control.
When Percy wants Dunstan to develop some
nude pictures of Leola, Dunstan makes the comparison of himself and Percy to the
myth of King Candaules and Gyges. There were two possible endings to the myth -
one being that Percy would lose Leola to Dunstan. This is shown when Leola later
tries to seduce Dunstan at a Christmas party. Although Dunstan and Percy are
very much opposites throughout the novel, there is one area in which they are
both the same- neither one of them is able to form warm, lasting human
At the beginning of their marriage, Percy is unable to be
faithful to Leola, but claims that since he "still loves her, the
encounters with the other ladies didnt really count." Percy is still
unable to be faithful to Leola later on in their marriage, due to his failing
efforts to bring up to "his standards". When Leola later dies, Percy
does not even come home for her funeral. Dunstan is not able to form lasting
When he refuses to marry Diana, it is because he doesnt
want anyone telling him what to do, like his mother did, ever - he wants to be
his own person: I know how clear it is that what was wrong between Diana and me
was that she was too much a mother to me, and as I had had one mother, and lost
her, I was not in a hurry to acquire another - not even a young and beautiful
one with whom I could play Oedipus to both our hearts content. If I could
manage it, I had not intention of being anybodys own dear laddie, ever again.(Page 88) There are many ways in which Dunstan and Ramsay are parallel, yet
contrast each other. The way in which Davies makes the characters foil each
other adds excitement and stability to the novel. Dunstan and Percy are perfect
best friends, and perfect enemies.