Fifth Business

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Dunstan Ramsay

Dunstan (Dunstable) Ramsay is the narrator of the story, which takes the form of a letter to the headmaster of Colborne College, where Dunstan works as a history teacher. Dunstan’s life has been defined, it… (read full character analysis)

Mrs. Mary Dempster

Mary Dempster is hit with a snowball at the beginning of the novel and her life is forever changed. Her son Paul is born prematurely, and it is suspected that the blow to the head… (read full character analysis)

Paul Dempster

Paul was born prematurely as a result of the snowball hitting his mother Mary’s head. He is a frail child, who at an early age, and under Dunstan’s tutelage, displays a talent for… (read full character analysis)

Mr. Amasa Dempster

Mr. Dempster is a devout Baptist preacher, husband to Mary and father to Paul. He is considered by many to be religiously devoted to a fault, possessing no judgment of his own and deferring… (read full character analysis)

Boy (Percy Boyd) Staunton

Boy grows from being a petulant and irresponsible young boy to an ambitious and egotistic man. He is a genius with finance and manages to avoid failure during the Great Depression. He receives honors in… (read full character analysis)
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Willie Ramsay

Willie is Dunstan’s older brother. As a child he suffered a back injury that led to kidney complications. He grows weaker and weaker, until one day when Dunstan is looking after him he dies—his… (read full character analysis)

Leola Cruikshank

Leola is the prettiest girl in Deptford, and early on develops a romantic relationship with Percy. When he goes away to boarding school after being caught having sex with their classmate Mabel, Leola… (read full character analysis)


Liesl is a hideously ugly but highly intelligent woman who manages Paul’s magic show. She has read Dunstan’s work on saints and chooses him to write the autobiography of Magnus Eisengrim. Dunstan… (read full character analysis)


The beautiful assistant to Magnus Eisengrim. Faustina is portrayed as a purely physical being. Dunstan admires and loves her from afar, knowing she has a kind of relationship with Paul. One night, however, he… (read full character analysis)

Padre Blazon

Padre Blazon is an old and eccentric member of the Jesuit group of scholars with whom Dunstan studies for a time. Dunstan has a particularly close relationship with Padre Blazon, whose understanding of Christianity, faith… (read full character analysis)

The Headmaster

The headmaster is the recipient of the letter the novel comprises. He was selected over Dunstan because he was perceived to be more “normal” and socially palatable. Dunstan writes to him after seeing an article… (read full character analysis)
Minor Characters
Mrs. Fiona Ramsay
Dunstan’s mother is a severe and highly capable woman who demands utter obedience from Dunstan. Though Dunstan does not believe he loves his mother, he does feel guilty about disobeying or lying to her. Mrs. Ramsay dies of the influenza epidemic while Dunstan is abroad fighting in the war.
Mr. Alexander Ramsay
Dunstan’s father runs the print shop in town, and is a very sensible man who does his best to care for his family. He is very disappointed in Dunstan when he enlists, because he knows how that decision will hurt Mrs. Ramsay. He also dies in the influenza epidemic.
Dr. Staunton
Boy’s father is similarly concerned with status and success. He is a successful man, but when his son grows more successful than him, he resents it.
Joel Surgeoner
Joel is the tramp who is caught sleeping with Mary Dempster. The event reforms him entirely, and he becomes a devout and generous Christian who runs a charity center for the homeless.
Diana Marfleet
The pretty, romantic nurse with whom Dunstan has a relationship following his coma. She is the first person Dunstan has sex with, as well as the first intelligent woman he interacts with. Nonetheless, he never fully loves her.
Denyse Hornick
Denyse is Boy’s second wife, an ambitious and goal-oriented woman who helps him into his career in politics. Her personality is quite similar to Boy’s, and though they are a better match than Boy and Leola were, Boy also grows unhappy in his marriage to her.
Milo Papple
Milo is the class clown of Dunstan’s class and eventually becomes the town barber. He updates Dunstan on the town gossip after Dunstan returns from the war.
Mrs. Staunton
Percy’s mother is a doting woman whom the town believes spoiled her son.
Mabel Heighington
Mabel is known for her promiscuity and is eventually caught sleeping with Percy.
Mrs. Heighington
Mabel’s mother, who catches her sleeping with Percy and is mortified.
Cece Athelstan
The degenerate member of one of the wealthiest families in Deptford. Cece harasses Mrs. Dempster after she is found with a tramp.
Le Solitaire
The circus master who lures Paul into running away and becoming a magician. It is repeatedly implied that he is a pedophile and that Paul learned magic in exchange for sexual favors.
Father Regan
The catholic priest in Deptford. Dunstan goes to him after the war to ask about the possible sainthood of Mrs. Dempster, and Father Regan finds it ludicrous that a Presbyterian like Dunstan would have anything to say anything about saints.
David and Caroline
The children of Boy and Leola. David eventually becomes a student and Colborne College, were Dunstan teaches.
Bertha Shanklin
Mrs. Dempster’s aunt, who cares for her after Mr. Dempster dies.
Orpheus Wettenhall
The lawyer who executes Bertha Shanklin’s estate. He is an avid hunter, who maintained appearances even when he lost most of his wealth in the depression. He eventually kills himself with a hunting rifle.
Dr. McCausland
The doctor who delivers Paul Dempster and looks after Willy Ramsay. He mocks Dunstan for believing that Willy was brought back from the dead.