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 Percy’s brand new expensive sled isn’t as fast as Dunny’s, 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 Leola’s love, military recognition, and more. Percy’s and Dunstan’s 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. I 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.
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. 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 relationships. 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 didn’t 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 relationships either. When he refuses to marry Diana, it is because he doesn’t 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 anybody’s own dear laddie, ever again. 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.