Fifth Business


Fifth Business Essay, Research Paper

Guilt is defined as a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime or wrong

committed. Guilt is a major theme in the novel Fifth Business. Dunny has been raised in a strict

Presbyterian household which has encouraged him to feel guilt about many minor things. Even

though Paul was not born at the time of the snowball incident, Paul Dempster still feels guilty

towards his mothers simple mindedness. Percy Boyd Stautons repressed guilt does considerable

damage and ultimately recoils on himself. In Fifth Business many characters feel guilt due to the

snowball incident.

Dunny Ramsay feels extremely guilty because he had anticipated that Percy, with whom he

had been arguing, would throw one final snowball at him before he eats dinner. He felt Mrs.

Ramsay’s pain when she was crying. “I had never heard an adult cry in pain before and the sound

was terrible for me.”(Page 3) Dunny is still very young, and most likely, he has the perception

that the adults should be the strong ones. To hear Mrs. Dempster cry must have been very

emotionally difficult for him. The guilt Dunny experienced, will forever remain with him and his

friend Paul Dempster for the rest of the novel.

When Paul Dempster is old enough to understand, he blames himself for causing his

mother simple mindedness because it was his birth that caused it. The townspeople worsened his

guilt by keeping a distance from him. “The dislike so many people felt for his mother – dislike for

the queer and persistently unfortunate they attached to the unoffending son.”(Page 34) Paul

Dempster is looked at down upon because of his mother’s actions that affect him. Once Paul

understands his situation, his guilt then lives with him forever, unlike Percy whose guilt is


Percy Boyd Stauton apparently feels no guilt at all throughout the novel. When Ramsay

tries to confront him with the responsibility, Percy takes no responsibility when he states, “I threw

a snowball at you and I guess it gave you a good smack.”(Page 16) Percy seriously thought he

did not hit Mrs. Dempster which resulted in no guilt until another part of the novel. When

Ramsay encounters Stauton when he is sixty years of age, Percy then for the first time remembers

the incident. This leads Percy Boyd Stauton to go through many different feelings. When

Ramsay reminded Percy about the incident many years later, he becomes a bully through his guilt.

In Fifth Business, Davies uses guilt to affect the lives of Dunny Ramsay, Paul Dempster

and Percy Boyd Stauton, through the snowball incident. Percy Boyd Stauton keeps his guilt

inside which causes more anger in the end. Paul Dempster feels guilt when he has the ability to

understand, and blames all of his mother’s problems on himself. Dunny has strong morals due to

his practice in religion which causes him to feel guilt towards many minor things. In conclusion,

guilt will always be kept inside until the individual has the strength to face the fear and accept his


Davies, Roberston. Fifth Business. Penguin Books 1996.

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