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Analysis Of Fifth Business By Robertson Davies English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 945 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Fifth Business, a novel written by Robertson Davies approaches the journey to heroic life by the means of the collective unconscious and the archetypes. In this, both the protagonist, Dunstable (Dunstan) Ramsay, and Percy Boyd (Boy) Staunton encounter many concepts regarding the human unconscious, particularly that of their own. Similarly, in the movie, Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein maintains a life of imbalance as a result of the disregard of his unconscious self. In each situation, these characters repress what they see as unimportant or unvalued qualities, for these are perceived as their “bad sides”. Thus, it becomes clear that in order to achieve the heroic life, one must face his personal devil.

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Similar to Dunstan, Boy Staunton is also involved in the snowball incident regarding Mary Dempster. Although both he and Dunstan know the truth, boy denies it, for he says to Dunstan, “I threw a snowball at you […] and I guess it gave you a good smack” (14). Thus, his inner guilt is forced into his unconscious, becoming his shadow. However, instead of facing his shadow, he surrounds himself with material items. For example, Dunstan states, “He was more important than ever, for as well as his financial interests, which were huge, he was a public figure, prominent in many philanthropic causes and even a few artistic ones, as these became fashionable” (227). Although he has everything in regards to the material life, he is almost unable to face any difficulties in his personal life. Thus, becoming the revenge of the unlived life for Boy. This is evident when Dunstan confronts him regarding the snowball for the final time. However, this time Dunstan reveals the truth, for he shows Boy a stone and says, ” It is the stone you put in the snowball you threw at Mrs. Dempster” (250). Not only does Dunstan reveal this, but he also forces Boy to understand that “The stone-in-the-snowball has been characteristic of too much [he has] done for [him] to forget it forever” (250). This confrontation forces Boy to face his shadow, which can also be seen as his personal devil. At this time, Boy continues to live in denial; however, the next morning he is announced dead with Dunstan’s stone in his mouth. In this, it is clear that Boy never reaches heroic life, for once his shadow rises to his conscious life, he is quickly defeated by his devil.

Victor Frankenstein has a life highly focused on study; however, love maintains a small piece of his life for Elizabeth. Elizabeth represents his inner female personality, which becomes known as his anima. In the event of his mother’s death, Victor sees himself as an orphan, triggering his need for self-exploration. In doing this, Victor continues to focus on his studies at a university, while ignoring his anima. His studies are based on his mother’s death, for he aims to create life without death. It is here that Victor’s hubris becomes overwhelming, for although he is warned, he takes no advice. As he continues with his studies, he creates a monster, who he does not name and, ultimately, ignores. In addition, the monster becomes publicly rejected. Only one wise old man is kind enough to point out to him that “man shouldn’t live in the shadows” (Frankenstein, 2004), for the monster becomes Victor’s shadow because he continually ignores him. After the monster takes the first step of revenge by killing Victor’s family, Victor enters a cave, symbolically representing his descent into his unconscious. It is here that he comes face to face with the shadow, who explains, “You gave me all these emotions, but you didn’t tell me how to use them” (Frankenstein, 2004). This encounter with his personal devil allows Victor to see that it is love that he holds deep in his unconscious, and he attempts to retain his love with Elizabeth. However, since he has neglected her, and the monster shows more love toward her, Elizabeth is taken by Victor’s shadow as his final revenge of the unlived life. He is evidently defeated by his personal devil and left without any of the truly important things he once had. Thus, Victor is also unable to obtain the heroic life, for it is too late for remorse.

Ultimately, not one of these characters reaches the heroic life, for each of them are unable to obtain a balance of both their conscious and unconscious self. In regards to Fifth Business, it is clear that one should not simply live on the sidelines as Dunstan does all his life, nor should one live a life of complete ignorance like Boy. Instead, it is necessary to experience both aspects to avoid any unlived life. Addressing Boy’s death, the Brazen Head states, “He was killed by the usual cabal: by himself, first of all; by the woman he knew; by the woman he did not know; by the man who granted his inmost wish; and by the inevitable fifth, who was keeper of his conscience and keeper of the stone” (252). This statement is further explained when Liesl asks Dunstan to join her and the Brazen Head “[…] before The Five make end of us all” (252), meaning that we are all killed by this usual cabal. This proves that it is important to live all aspects of one’s life while it is possible. Similar can be said for Victor Frankenstein, for if he only acknowledges the aspects he pushes to his unconscious sooner, he would not continue life in this unhappy manner. Thus, heroic life requires one to acknowledge all aspects of oneself, both the good and bad.


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