The Character of Boy Staunton in Fifth Business, a Novel by Robertson Davies

Topics: Fifth Business

He was killed by the usual cabal: 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 keeper of his conscience and keeper of the stone” (Davies 252). Boy Staunton is dead, found in his car with a rock in his mouth in Toronto Harbor. Boy may be the villain in the story of the Dempsters, but is a friend to the narrator of this novel by Robertson Davies, Fifth Business, and a hero to the rest of the world.

When Boy and the narrator, Ramsey, were boys, Boy threw a snowball at Ramsey. He ducked, and the snowball instead hit Mrs. Dempster, wife of the local Reverend, who was pregnant.

She went into labor there and then, and had a premature baby. Against the odds, both lived, but Mrs. Dempster was “simple” after that. No one but Ramsey knew who had thrown the snowball.

Ramsey helped to care for the Dempsters and he taught little Paul some magic tricks, and Paul ran away with the circus because everyone hated his mother. Later in life, Ramsey was a schoolteacher, Boy was a rich and successful entrepreneur, and Paul became a famous magician by the name of Eisengrim. Ramsey was the confidant of Boy, and found Eisengrim on his travels. Ramsey is compared to the opera term of fifth business, the character that is neither villain nor hero, but is necessary for the plot.

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In this instance Ramsey is the character who brings Eisengrim and Boy together after Boy has seen the magic show.

Eisengrim’s magic show was one of mystery and fear rather than humor, and Ramsey helped create one of the tricks in his show, The Brazen
Head. The Brazen head seems to know things about audience members that no one else knows. Eisengrim takes sealed letters from the audience and tells everyone what they contain. After that the Head would tell everyone some personal information about three of the audience members. The voice of the Head is Liesl, Eisengrim’s gargoyle-like business partner. After Boy died, someone in the audience asked it who had killed him, and the previous quote was its answer. The Head is a fantastic magic trick that astounded many people and caused much uproar when giving information about Boy. Magic is important in the lives of modern people because we need something to believe in for we have deprived ourselves of the old ways of mythology.

The mysterious circumstances of Boy’s death suggest that perhaps the hypnotic skills of Eisengrim may have been involved. From the very beginning Eisengrim’s fate has been Boy’s fault. Boy threw the snowball that caused Paul to be born prematurely and his mother to become simple. Boy was the leader of the boys who0 would taunt him and his mother everyday and caused him to run away. The day before Boy’s death, Ramsey brought all three of the men together and had a conversation. During this time Eisengrim’s identity was revealed and their childhood past discussed. Ramsey revealed that he had with him through his entire life the rock that was hidden in the snowball that
hit Mrs. Dempster. Boy was found with that rock in his mouth when he died. During the conversation he acts as if this does not affect him. ” An ordinary bit of stone. You’ve used it to hold down some of this stuff one your desk for years. I’ve seen it a hundred times.

It doesn’t remind me of anything but you. “It is the stone you put in the snowball you threw at Mrs. Dempster.. The stone-in-the-snowball has been characteristic of to much you’ve done for you to forget it forever!”Davies 250) Boy sees himself as the perfect man and a hero. He is in his prime and is about to win an esteemed position that he has worked on for years. Yet he is not happy. “I feel rotten, I’ve done just about
everything I’ve ever planned to do, and everybody thinks I’m a success.. ‘I wish I could get a car and drive away from the whole damn thing”(Davies 227). Why is such a Successful man feeling so horrible? Ramsey has a response; “A truly mythological wish’ ‘You want to pass into oblivion with your amour on, like King Arthur, but modern medical science is too clever to allow it. You must grow old Boy; you’ll have to find out what age means, and how to be old.”

Boy does not want to wane; he wants to be forever known as the successtul man, never an old man sucking on oxygen and dependent upon others to care for him. So it would seem that his death was a combination of many things, as the Head says. To rephrase, he was killed first of all by his own actions in being the villain that he is and in wanting to go out with a bang. Yet he would not kill himself just yet because he still has the possibility for further achievement and a new wife to help him do it. He may have needed some encouragement. One of Eisengrim’s best skills as a magician is his ability to hypnotize. He uses hypnotism in all of his shows and once gives a little show to the boys at Ramsey’s schoo. He also explains some of the rules of hypnotism to the boys. The most important of these is that someone cannot be hypnotized to do anything that is against their strongest desires. Someone who is morally against mooning people cannot be made to do so.

Someone who is happy and does not want to die cannot be made to kill himself. That is how Boy died. He had set himself up to be willing to die, and Eisengrim merely egged him on. Eisengrim was the man who “granted his inmost wish” Boy got to go out with his amour on and leave behind a legacy and a mystery. What is important now is to decide who the woman he knew and the woman he did not know are. The most obvious option for the woman he knows would be his current wife, who also thinks that she is the woman he knew; “Of course she thought “the woman he knew’ must be herself.” The contemptuous air of that sentence suggests that it was not she. It could be his old wife, Leola. When they were younger, Boy and Ramsey had a bit of a fight over Leola and boy won. Boy married her and they had two children. At one point boy cheated on her and she tried to kill herself, leaving a note to Ramsey saying that she loved him. She was still alive despite her attempt and lived for a while longer before getting sick and deliberately leaving a window open when she should not have.

As with all things, Boy got over it quickly, or so it seemed. Perhaps the events surrounding his old wife still haunted him and added to his stress. In this way she helped to kill him, adding to his massive pile of past horrors and mistakes. The difference between this and the incident with the snowball is that Boy cannot pretend not to remember this one. He must face what happened and deal with it as a grown up withoOut the excuse of saying he was a stupid little boy.

The woman he did not know must be Liesl, the voice of the Head. She is the only character that he did not know that had a say in the events. Liesl is the one who introduced Ramsey to the meaning of fifth business and showed him that he is one. “You cannot manage the plot without fifth business! … Are you Fifth Business? You had better find out” (Davies 214). Ramsey realizes that he is Fifth Business, and that begins to
influence his actions. During the fateful talk before Boy’s death, Ramsey reveals to us that some of the things he says he says because he is the Fifth Business. “Dunstan Ramsey counseled against revelation, but Fifth Business would not hear” (Davies 249).

So Ramsey as the Fifth Business set up the revelation for Boy and therefore helped to cause his death. How Liesl knows of this is simply part of the magic of the Brazen Head. Davies, Robertson. Fifth Business, 1977 Penguin, NY.

1) I am not sure because I fell asleep writing it last night. I did not procrastinate, I was just really busy!
2) I kinda do but I thinkI could have done better if I had had the time to really write it well
3) My struggle was with time and finding the quotes- they disappear!!
4) Probably a high C or low B just because of the hurried-ness of it

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The Character of Boy Staunton in Fifth Business, a Novel by Robertson Davies. (2023, Mar 10). Retrieved from

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