The allusions to drama and theatre are made explicit in this novel through the title and the way that Dunstan, the narrator of this story, comes to view himself as being "Fifth Business," that fifth character who has no opposite pairing, but whose function is to make the plot work through how he connects the other characters. Dunstan himself draws upon his identity as Fifth Business at various points in the text to explain his actions, such as his disclosure to both Paul Dempster and Boyd Staunton about Paul's unfortunate premature birth. Stemming from this rich thematic vein of drama and theatre in the text, it is clear that the central message of this text concerns identifying one's role in life and then determining to play it. Liesl rebukes Dunstan for living a life that, in her words, is "not lived" because it is bogged down by guilt and a Presbyterian sense of right and wrong. She makes the following suggestion to him:
Why don't you shake hands with your devil, Ramsay, and change this foolish life of yours? Why don't you, just for once, do something inexplicable, irrational, at the devil's bidding, and just for the hell of it? You would be a very different man.
The narrator has played various roles throughout the entire novel up until this point: guilt-stricken villain, war hero, friend, erratic school master. Liesl encourages him to live for himself and express who he really is rather than not living and living other roles that are not really an expression of his identity. The message of this novel is therefore to find your role and then to live it, rather than to live the other roles that others--friends, parents, society--would have you live. It is after this conversation that Dunstan experiences "deep healing tenderness," which indicates how important this message is to him.