Literary Analysis Essay: The Fifth Business


The author of the novel develops the story around the lives of the narrator and the protagonist. Primarily, he utilizes a host of devices in steering the plot forwards. One of such methods is the strategic death of characters. In literature, the idea of death exists on numerous levels. Despite the infinite ways to interpret death in a narrative, authors utilize death to contribute to the emotional effects, plot twists, suspense and build on essential mysteries.

In the Fifth Business, some characters die. Other characters face risky situations as the story unfolds. Robertson (1970, p.272) narrates “The usual cabal killed him: by himself, first of all; by the woman he knew; by the woman he did not know; by the man who granted his inmost wish; and by the inevitable fifth, who was the keeper of his conscience and keeper of the stone.” Characters are symbols or tools in a narrative. In literature, authors are keen to construct storylines in a well-thought-out manner such that the death of a character often has some implication to the theme or narrative.  

The blatant start has the last significant word to this history, in his rejoinder to David’s query concerning who exterminated his father. Authors use death to put across important information or consolidate situations into a predetermined set of events. Two conditions are likely to follow in the event of death. First, Robertson may intend to emphasize a specific theme. Secondly, the author may realize that a character is no longer beneficial to the plot of the story. In the Fifth Business, characters that survived under seemingly fatal situations did so because they are adaptable to the point that they are “reborn.” Alternatively, the author used such circumstances to bring into perspective some extraordinary attributes of other characters. 

Survival for the Fittest

The environment in the novel represents a jungle where only the strongest survive. Ramsey and his brother, Willie, represent characters that faced near-death situations. In the book, Ramsey says, “For me, Willie’s recall from death is, and will always be Mrs. Dempster’s second miracle.” The apparent survival, or “resurrection,” of Willie is not because he was distinctive or adaptable.

On the contrary, the situation was necessary to bring into perspective some unique traits concerning Mrs. Dempster. In the rest of the story, the audience seldom encounters Willie. Instead, the author used Willies’ survival to justify Ramsey’s theory that Mrs. Dempster had some unique trait despite underlying mental conditions. This can be confirmed in this narration, “He left the Church without any prospects, a crazy and disgraced wife, a delicate child, and six dollars in cash” (Robertson, 1970, P.51).

The passage depicts what transpired to the divine to the life of Dempster’s following his wife being found with vaqran. Towards the end of the story, after Mrs. Dempster’s death, Ramsey reaffirms the notion that she may have been a saint. Ramsey is disappointed when the Church refutes his claims. His final attempt at proving Mrs. Dempster was a saint happens when he sniffs her corpse for the scent of violets. Ramsey believed that dead saints had a tinge of the smell of violets on their bodies. To his disappointment, he realizes that the corpse merely smelled of bought perfumes. At this point, the reader realizes that Willie may have fallen into a comma. 

The bottom line of the story is that the author used Willie’s situation to amplify Ramsey’s strong beliefs concerning saints and sainthood. Besides, the author uses Willie’s death to explain Mrs. Dempster’s mental status and its influence on the overall story. Mrs. Dempster’s condition triggers Ramsey to pursue his theories on sainthood. For Ramsey’s postulations on sainthood to aggregate, the author brings together the characters of Mrs. Dempster and the ailing Willie. However, the audience later understands that these events happened because of Ramsey’s guilty conscience, as he felt responsible for Mrs. Dempster’s mental conditions. This is implicitly supported in the assentation that “And (Dunstan) left Deptford in the flesh. It was not for a long time that I recognized that I had never wholly left Deptford in the Spirit.” (Robertson, 1970, p.105)

The central theme in the fifth business is the approach in which the precedent moulds the people. Even though traits reminiscent of Ramsey, Dempster, and Percy Staunton grew their horizon and re-branded themselves, that growing township of Deptford was in their blood.  Ramsey is a character faced with near-death situations but survives. As the main character, there are reasons to believe that the author allows his role to escape to demonstrate his capacity to adapt to new situations. Furthermore, the novel revolves much around the relationship between Ramsey and Mrs. Dempster. Ramsey observes that the last time he had been conscious was November during the previous year. Yet he was awake in a hospital in May. Ramsey survived traumatizing experiences. He lost one of his legs and spent six months in a comma. During the near-death experience, Ramsey saw the vision of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. The image becomes one of the three proofs used by Ramsey to justify his postulation that Mrs. Dempster was a saint.

Ramsey exhibits bravery before he is injured. He crawls to the enemy side and shoots three Germans terrorizing Ramsey’s company of soldiers. As a result, two primary reasons empower Ramsey to survive excruciating ordeals despite the high odds of demise. First, the author intended to portray Ramsey as an exceptional character. As such, it was instrumental for him to perform fabulous fetes that aided his development into the main character. Secondly, his extended survival contributed to plot progress in a significant way. The author intended to emphasize Ramsey’s obsession with hagiology. To achieve this end, he needed to experience three miracles performed by Mrs Dempster. The near-death experience allowed the author to introduce the third miracle in a very creative way, “But what hit me worse than the blow of shrapnel was that the face was Mrs Dempster’s face.” (Robertson, 1970, p.74)

This is Dempster’s most phenomenons. Amid the volley and his deadly injury, Dunstan witnessed his saint’s appearance immediately turns on the figurine of the virgin Marry. Two key characters perish in an untimely manner in the story; Amasa Dempster and Leola. The juxtaposition of these two characters with Ramsey’s ordeals reveals that they died because they were unable to adapt effectively to the plot. After returning from the war, Ramsey realizes that Mr Dempster had lost his life because of the flu.

The author decided to kill Mr Dempster’s character because it was irrelevant to the story. After Mrs Dempster’s ailments force her to stay with her aunt, she becomes irrelevant to the story. The persona in the story informs us that Mr Dempster was not genuinely religious. Mrs Dempster hid behind the curtains of religion to conceal elements that defied established principles on Christian behaviour. Leola’s character died because they did not make sufficient contributions to the plot and the story. After separation from Percy, and rejection from Ramsey, Leola becomes disillusioned and attempts suicide. She eventually dies of pneumonia. However, Ramsey seemed to suggest that she might have orchestrated her death despite lacking the proof to substantiate the claims. 


In the Fifth Business, numerous characters adapt and survive to situations that are out of their favour. The author uses the aspect of surviving great adversities to bring into perspective the unique attributes of the same characteristics while advancing the plot of the play. Ramsey’s character survives because he was adaptable and his importance towards the construction of the plot. On the other hand, Willie survived great ordeals to amplify the theme. The characters of both Mr Dempster and Leola die because of their poor adaptability to change, and because they become irrelevant to the story. The author utilized death in so many ways in this novel. Death evoked emotions among readers to empower the author to provide a convincing argument. 

Work Cited

Davies, Robertson. Fifth Business. Toronto: McMillan, 1970.