How Guilt Affects Dunstan Ramsay in Fifth Business

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Guilt can affect people in many ways. In Robertson Davies book Fifth Business, the main character Dunstan Ramsay’s life is shaped by his guilt for an accident that was not really his fault. Dunstan’s guilt affects him in ways where he sometimes does not feel guilt where he should, or is sometimes completely consumed by his guilt. Many things shape Dunstan’s life throughout the novel guilt being the most impacting one.

Dunstan’s entire life is shaped by his guilt about Mary Dempster’s accident. Although he was not the one that threw the snowball, he feels guilt because Boy Staunton, (Then Percy Boyd Staunton) had intended the snowball for him. The impact to the head from boy’s rock loaded snowball resulted in Mary losing her sanity. Her son Paul, “... was premature by some eighty days, as well as Dr. McCausland could determine” (Davies 12) because of the accident. Dunstan says in the novel that he heard much about the situation while “[Dunstan] Stood barefoot and in [Duntan’s] nightshirt beside the stovepipe upstairs, guilt-ridden and often nauseated …”(Davies 12). His guilt over the accident begins to consume him, making him feel like a sort of criminal and starts an almost lifelong devotion to Mary Dempster out of guilt. He lives much of his life hoping to be able to make it up to her. Later in the novel Dunstan feels very guilty when he is entrusted with the care of Mary Dempster, and cannot afford to put her in a nice institution or have her live with him, and must put her in a public mental hospital. While Mary was in the mental hospital, “[Dunstan] visited Mrs. Dempster forty Saturdays every year and at Easter, Christmas and on her birthday” (Davies 182). As his guilt lingers, he fulfills his commitment to take care of Mary until her death. Upon Mary’s death, Dunstan feels a slight, but not complete, wane of his guilt.
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