Robertson Davies novel, Fifth Business, revolves around guilt, competition,and two men who are foils of each other. Although Dunstan Ramsay and Percy BoydStaunton are parallels to each other, they contrast in a great number of ways.
Their awkward relationship plays a significant role in the number of elementswhich make Fifth Business such an interesting story. While Dunstan Ramsay hadnever been too interested in competing with Percy Boyd Staunton, Percy from ayoung age saw Dunny as a rival. When Percys brand new expensive sled isntas fast as Dunnys, Percy gets angry and throws a snowball at Dunny, which inturn begins the setting for the novel. The two continue to compete throughoutthe novel, for things such as Leolas love, military recognition, and more.
Percys and Dunstans characters contrast in many ways. The most prominentway in which they contrast is their values. Dunstan values spiritual things,while Percy values only material things. Percy is impressed by and yearns formoney, while Dunstan could care less about it. Dunstan explains his lack ofdesire 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 fora ready-made suit, and four dollars a criminal price for a pair of shoes. Ichanged my shirt twice a week and my underwear once. I had not yet developed anyexpensive 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 wasmaterialistic: To him the reality was of life lay in external things, whereasfor me the only reality was of the spirit – of mind. (Page 114) Dunstan is in asearch for inner truth and spirituality, and Percy is searching for outer beautyand appearances. Another way in which the two contrast is that while Dunstanleaves a lot of events in his life up to chance, Percy wants everyone, andeverything in control- in his control. When Percy wants Dunstan to develop somenude pictures of Leola, Dunstan makes the comparison of himself and Percy to themyth 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 latertries to seduce Dunstan at a Christmas party. Although Dunstan and Percy arevery much opposites throughout the novel, there is one area in which they areboth the same- neither one of them is able to form warm, lasting humanrelationships. At the beginning of their marriage, Percy is unable to befaithful to Leola, but claims that since he “still loves her, theencounters with the other ladies didnt really count.” Percy is stillunable to be faithful to Leola later on in their marriage, due to his failingefforts to bring up to “his standards”. When Leola later dies, Percydoes not even come home for her funeral. Dunstan is not able to form lastingrelationships either. When he refuses to marry Diana, it is because he doesntwant anyone telling him what to do, like his mother did, ever – he wants to behis own person: I know how clear it is that what was wrong between Diana and mewas that she was too much a mother to me, and as I had had one mother, and losther, I was not in a hurry to acquire another – not even a young and beautifulone with whom I could play Oedipus to both our hearts content. If I couldmanage 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, yetcontrast each other. The way in which Davies makes the characters foil eachother adds excitement and stability to the novel. Dunstan and Percy are perfectbest friends, and perfect enemies.