Role-Playing in Fifth Business

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By examining Fifth Business, it is clear that the characters take part in theatricizing life: they play and cast others into roles founded in archetypes. The characters feel a need to do this because it provides stability in their lives. Playing a role gives a person an identity and purpose so that, even in face of unpredictability, their self-image and future is a given constant. Imposing such roleplaying on the rest of humankind familiarizes the outside world and gives a person an escape from volatile reality.

To begin, characters are repeatedly compelled to shape their identities – both public and private – after recognizable archetypes. For example, Dunny Ramsey defines and confines himself in terms of archetypes – the roles he does and doesn’t play:

I had never, so far as I can tell, been absorbed completely into the character of a Headmaster—a figure of authority, of scholarship, of probity—but I was an historian, a hagiographer, a bachelor of unstained character, a winner of the Victoria Cross, the author of several admired books, a man whose course of life was set and the bounds of whose success were defined. (Davies 205)

Dunny rejects playing the part of the fogyish schoolmaster and instead identifies with the archetype of the outsider: an eccentric with an assortment of atypical interests and achievements. His acceptance of this role, the fate of which is defined, supplies constancy in his life. Likewise, Paul Demsper consciously takes on the archetypal persona of the mysterious magician. He says that he must stay in “character all the time” and that “[w]hen people meet [him] [he] must be always the distinguished gentleman conferring a distinction; not a nice fellow, just like the rest of the boys” (Davies 199). This role is characterized as a master of a hidden knowledge. Playing this part as Magnus Eisengrim makes Paul an enigma and emotional detaches him from others. The secrecy and disconnection conceal and, thus, protect his psyche/inner...
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