Deacon King Kong

by

James McBride

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Deems Clemens Character Analysis

Deems Clemens is a former baseball player who has since become a vicious drug dealer who sells heroin in the Causeway Projects. Deems is capable and intelligent, and he believes selling drugs will allow him to elevate his social and economic status in a way baseball never could. After Deems is dismissive toward Sportcoat’s suggestion that he return to baseball, Sportcoat shoots him in the ear, wounding him and taking him off the streets. While recovering, Deems takes stock of the men around him and tries to figure out the best way to move up the drug-dealing ladder. Notably, Deems’s perceptions and predictions about those around him prove true throughout the novel. He thinks Lightbulb will betray him, and he does. Similarly, he believes that Bunch and Earl are useless to him, and they are. However, Deems is caught by surprise when, Haroldeen a woman who seduces him, turns out to be an assassin Bunch hired to shoot him. Deems survives this second shooting, though he’s injured and must return to the hospital. Eventually, Deems has a change of heart about dealing drugs after Sportcoat visits him at the hospital and almost smothers him to death out of anger at Deems for throwing his life away. In this moment, Deems realizes the pain and hurt he’s caused Sportcoat, the Cause residents, and himself. At the end of the novel, he returns to baseball, reclaiming the promise he showed early on in his life.

Deems Clemens Quotes in Deacon King Kong

The Deacon King Kong quotes below are all either spoken by Deems Clemens or refer to Deems Clemens. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
).
Chapter 1: Jesus’s Cheese Quotes

“In the middle of the night, she shook me woke. I opened my eyes and seen a light floating ’round the room. It was like a little candlelight. ’Round and ’round it went, then out the door. Hettie said, ‘That’s God’s light. I got to fetch some moonflowers out the harbor.’ She put on her coat and followed it outside.”

Related Characters: Sportcoat (speaker), Hettie (speaker), Deems Clemens
Related Symbols: Flowers
Page Number: 3-4
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2: A Dead Man Quotes

Clemens was the New Breed of colored in the Cause. Deems wasn’t some poor colored boy from down south or Puerto Rico or Barbados who arrived in New York with empty pockets and a Bible and a dream […] Deems didn’t give a shit about white people, or education, or sugarcane, or cotton, or even baseball, which he had once been a whiz at. None of the old ways meant a penny to him. He was a child of Cause, young, smart, and making money hand over fist slinging dope at a level never before seen in the Cause Houses. He had high friends and high connections from East New York all the way to Far Rockaway, Queens, and any fool in the Cause stupid enough to open their mouth in his direction ended up hurt bad or buried in an urn in an alley someplace.

Related Characters: Deems Clemens, Sportcoat
Related Symbols: Baseball
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3: Jet Quotes

Rather it was the memory, not long ago, of Sportcoat shagging fly balls with him at the baseball field on warm spring afternoons; it was Sportcoat who taught him how to pivot and zing a throw to home plate from 350 feet out […] Sportcoat made him a star in baseball. He was the envy of the white boys on the John Jay High School baseball team, who marveled at the college scouts who risked life and limb to venture to the funky, dirty Cause Houses baseball field to watch him pitch. But that was another time, when he was a boy and his grandpa was living. He was a man now, nineteen, a man who needed money. And Sportcoat was a pain in the ass.

Related Characters: Sportcoat, Deems Clemens
Related Symbols: Baseball
Page Number: 28-29
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5: The Governor Quotes

Greed, he thought wryly as he dug into the earth. That’s the disease. I got it myself.

Related Characters: Tommy Elefante (speaker), Deems Clemens, Joe Peck, Mrs. Elefante
Related Symbols: Flowers
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7: The March of the Ants Quotes

“Everything,” he muttered aloud, “is falling apart.”

Related Characters: Deems Clemens (speaker), Lightbulb, Bunch Moon
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9: Dirt Quotes

Sister Gee snorted. “Things got unstable ’round here four years ago when that new drug come in. This new stuff—I don’t know what they call it —you smoke it, you put it in your veins with needles . . . however you do it, once you do it a few times you is stuck with it. Never seen nothing like it around here before, and I seen a lot. This projects was safe till this new drug come in. Now the old folks is getting clubbed coming home from work every night, getting robbed outta their little payday money so these junkies can buy more of Deems’s poison. He ought to be ashamed of hisself. His grandfather would kill him if he was living.”

Related Characters: Sister Gee (speaker), Potts Mullen, Bunch Moon, Deems Clemens
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14: Rat Quotes

“Soon as they started whipping on him, Deems ran off the roof. He run off soon as they started cutting Bumps up. The minute them Jamaicans left Bumps laying in the alley, Deems came out the back door of Building Nine and ran over to Bumps holding a steaming pot of rice and beans. He must’ve had it cooking in his house. He said, ‘Here’s your rice and beans, Bumps.’ He poured that whole pot on him.

Related Characters: Lightbulb (speaker), Deems Clemens, Bumps, Bunch Moon
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17: Harold Quotes

“Seen ’em all,” Sportcoat said proudly. “Even barnstormed a little myself, but I had to make money. That ain’t gonna be Deems’s problem. He’ll make plenty money in the bigs. He got the fire and the talent. You can’t take the love of ball out of a ballplayer, Sausage. Can’t be done. There’s a baseball player in that boy.”

Related Characters: Sportcoat (speaker), Hot Sausage, Deems Clemens
Related Symbols: Baseball
Page Number: 237
Explanation and Analysis:

The waiting didn’t bother Deems, but the uncertainty of strategy did. Everything to him was about strategy. That’s how he’d survived. He heard that other big-time dealers called him a boy genius. He liked that. It pleased him that his crew, his rivals, and even at times Mr. Bunch marveled at how someone so young managed to figure things out on his own and keep ahead of older men, some of whom were vicious and clawing to get his business.

11000

Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:

Deems loved baseball. He’d pitched all the way through high school and could have gone further had not his cousin Rooster lured him into the fast money of the heroin game. He still kept track of the game, the teams, the squads, the statistics, the hitters, the Miracle Mets, who, miraculously, might be in the World Series that year, and most of all, the strategy.

10000

Related Characters: Deems Clemens, Sportcoat, Haroldeen/Phyllis
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18: Investigation Quotes

Sister Gee looked at the people staring at her: Dominic, Bum-Bum, Miss Izi, Joaquin, Nanette, and the rest, at least fifteen people in all. She’d known most of them her whole life. They stared at her with that look, that projects look: the sadness, the suspicion, the weariness, the knowledge that comes from living a special misery in a world of misery. Four of their numbers were down—gone, changed forever, dead or not, it didn’t matter. And there would be more. The drugs, big drugs, heroin, were here. Nothing could stop it. They knew that now. Someone else had already taken over Deems’s bench at the flagpole. Nothing here would change. Life in the Cause would lurch forward as it always did.

Page Number: 266
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 22: 281 Delphi Quotes

They were horrible sons of bitches—men who set upon one another with welding torches, scorched each other with hot irons, and poured Clorox into one another’s eyes for the sake of dope; men who made their girlfriends do horrible things, servicing four or five or eight men a night, who made their women do push-ups over piles of dogshit for a hit of heroin until, exhausted, the girls dropped into the shit so the men could get a laugh. These were the men her mother allowed in her life.

Page Number: 309
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 23: Last Octobers Quotes

And from there, so close, he saw in the old man’s face what he had felt down in the darkness of the harbor when the old man had yanked him to safety: the strength, the love, the resilience, the peace, the patience, and this time, something new, something he’d never seen in all the years he’d known old Sportcoat, the happy-go-lucky drunk of the Cause Houses: absolute, indestructible rage.

Related Characters: Sportcoat, Deems Clemens
Page Number: 322
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Deacon King Kong LitChart as a printable PDF.
Deacon King Kong PDF

Deems Clemens Character Timeline in Deacon King Kong

The timeline below shows where the character Deems Clemens appears in Deacon King Kong. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Jesus’s Cheese
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
Race and Power Theme Icon
In September of 1969, an old deacon nicknamed Sportcoat shoots 19-year-old Deems Clemens, an infamously “ruthless” drug dealer, in the Causeway Housing Projects of Brooklyn. Sportcoat is... (full context)
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...the shooting, residents of the projects gather outside to exchange theories about why Sportcoat shot Deems. Sister T. J. Billings, whom people call “Bum-Bum,” insists that Sportcoat “is under an evil... (full context)
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...smuggler and a tough customer whom most people try to avoid, even drug dealers like Deems. However, Elefante promises Sportcoat that he and his men had nothing to do with Hettie’s... (full context)
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...is a little crazy, but no more so than anyone else. However, when Sportcoat shoots Deems, their perception changes. They realize Sportcoat may be crazier than they thought, as his actions... (full context)
Chapter 2: A Dead Man
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Love, Hope, and Redemption Theme Icon
Even before he shot Deems, it was surprising to the Causeway community that Sportcoat was still alive. The residents of... (full context)
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Unlike Sportcoat and Hettie, Deems grew up in New York City. This upbringing made Deems tough, and although he has... (full context)
Chapter 3: Jet
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Sixteen people watched Sportcoat shoot Deems, but no one would say anything to the police. However, they didn’t have to because... (full context)
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...time near a flagpole in the main plaza of the Causes, the same spot where Deems and his fellow dealers do the majority of their selling. While watching Deems, Jet notices... (full context)
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When Sportcoat reaches Deems, who is standing around with members of his crew, he asks Deems about baseball. Previously,... (full context)
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
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When Sportcoat asks Deems why he stopped playing baseball, Deems tells Sportcoat that he’s found a better way to... (full context)
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...watches as Sportcoat pulls out the gun. At the last minute, he yells to warn Deems. Still, Sportcoat is able to get a shot off, which hits Deems in the ear.... (full context)
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As everyone flees the scene, Sportcoat moves to shoot Deems again. However, after seeing Deems on his hands and knees, Sportcoat has a sudden change... (full context)
Chapter 4: Running Off
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Hot Sausage warns Sportcoat that he is in great danger. Deems has deep connections in the drug business, and they won’t hesitate to kill Sportcoat to... (full context)
Chapter 5: The Governor
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Not long after Sportcoat shoots Deems, a police officer arrives at Thomas Elefante’s house to tell him about the shooting in... (full context)
Chapter 6: Bunch
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Bunch, a member of Joe Peck’s (and therefore Deems’s) criminal enterprise, is sitting in his apartment and reading the newspaper. His subordinate Earl sits... (full context)
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...isn’t listening to him and decides to change the subject. He begins asking Earl about Deems, who is still recovering from the bullet he took to the ear. Earl tells Bunch... (full context)
Chapter 7: The March of the Ants
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
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...are little bother compared to the variety of other animals that occupy the area. However, Deems always does his best to make sure the ants don’t get into his building. While... (full context)
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While thinking about the ants, Deems mutters to himself, “Everything […] is falling apart,” unaware that anyone is around him. However,... (full context)
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Deems always liked Sportcoat because he wasn’t like the other members of the Five Ends Church.... (full context)
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However, despite all of Deems’s positive memories of Sportcoat, he is still furious with him. He begins talking out loud... (full context)
Chapter 9: Dirt
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Still, Sister Gee does provide Potts with some new information. She tells him that Deems survived the shooting because Jet, whom everyone in the Cause knows is an undercover policeman,... (full context)
Chapter 10: Soup
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...Sportcoat goes outside and shows his face in public for the first time since shooting Deems. Before long, Sportcoat finds Hot Sausage and asks him what the celebration is all about.... (full context)
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...at hand. However, Hot Sausage’s strategy fails, as Sportcoat continues to ignore his warnings about Deems and instead continues to ask questions about Soup. Sportcoat likes Soup because he used to... (full context)
Chapter 11: Pokeweed
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Peck begins talking about the recent events in the Cause. He is mad about Deems’s shooting because it’s creating problems for his business. Deems is one of his best men,... (full context)
Chapter 14: Rat
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Lightbulb, one of Deems’s henchmen, goes to a meeting with Bunch. He tells Bunch that Deems is not as... (full context)
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Deems’s primary selling location is near a flagpole, a central location in the Causeway Projects, which... (full context)
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...of jail, Bumps gave them jobs but made it clear that they worked for him. Deems agreed to work for Bumps and pretends to forgive and forget the incident in juvy.... (full context)
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...dangerous fake cocaine jump him. The Jamaican men cut Bumps up bad, leaving him disabled. Deems watched the entire incident, which he orchestrated, from afar. Then, as soon as the Jamaican... (full context)
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...of this information to Bunch in the hopes that Bunch will let him take over Deems’s flagpole. Bunch tells Lightbulb that he will consider it. However, when Lightbulb pushes him for... (full context)
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Lightbulb leaves and Bunch considers the best way to get rid of Deems. He agrees with Lightbulb’s assessment and wants Deems gone because he has a large quantity... (full context)
Chapter 15: You Have No Idea What’s Coming
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...community as a whole. In response, Sister Gee asks Potts why he doesn’t just arrest Deems if the police are so powerful. Potts tells her that Deems has wealthy connections that... (full context)
Chapter 16: May God Hold You…
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At this point, it’s been roughly two weeks since Sportcoat shot Deems. It is a Wednesday, and Sportcoat is spending his time with Mrs. Elefante, helping her... (full context)
Chapter 17: Harold
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Love, Hope, and Redemption Theme Icon
Sportcoat and Hot Sausage talk about the best way to solve Sportcoat’s predicament with Deems. Sportcoat thinks that the best way to solve matters is to speak with Deems in... (full context)
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In the meantime, Deems has other matters on his mind. He is less focused on Sportcoat and more focused... (full context)
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In an attempt to get away from his hectic life, Deems goes on a date with a girl named Phyllis. She is new to the area... (full context)
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Deems and Phyllis have a conversation on a pier that begins to turn sexual. Nearby, Deems... (full context)
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Love, Hope, and Redemption Theme Icon
...their conversation can go any further, Phyllis takes a gun from her jacket and shoots Deems’s bodyguard. She then turns the gun to Deems and Hot Sausage and shoots both of... (full context)
Chapter 18: Investigation
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...the shooting, but no one seems to know the details. Similar to the first time Deems got shot, many rumors circulate, though no one knows what to think of the incident. (full context)
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...also informs her of what he knows so far. Right now, it looks as though Deems’s bodyguard was killed, but Deems and Sportcoat are still alive and in the hospital. However,... (full context)
Chapter 19: Double-Crossed
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Still, Peck remains suspicious. The pier where Sportcoat supposedly shot Deems and his bodyguard was the same place where Peck planned to receive his large heroin... (full context)
Chapter 20: Plant Man
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
...drinking King Kong. Every day, Rufus returns to him with news about Hot Sausage and Deems. At the moment, both Hot Sausage and Deems are alive, well, and in the hospital.... (full context)
Love, Hope, and Redemption Theme Icon
...he spends all of his time thinking about the night of the shooting and pulling Deems out of the water. He and Hettie had always wanted to jump into the New... (full context)
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
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...him that she understands. She also says that Sportcoat’s background is what makes him like Deems so much; they came from similar broken upbringings. (full context)
Chapter 22: 281 Delphi
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Phyllis, whose real name is Haroldeen, has come to collect her payment for killing Deems and his bodyguard. However, because Deems is still alive and the job is not yet... (full context)
Chapter 23: Last Octobers
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After three days in the hospital, Deems wakes up with a painful buzzing noise in his ear. He is still in immense... (full context)
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Love, Hope, and Redemption Theme Icon
However, today Deems wakes up to a new face: Sportcoat. To Deem’s surprise, Sportcoat isn’t wearing his usual... (full context)
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Sportcoat pulls out another gift for Deems: a small exercise ball that Sportcoat says will improve the strength of Deems’s pitching hand.... (full context)
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Annoyed, Deems starts to mock Sportcoat and calls him “Deacon King Kong.” Sportcoat tells Deems that he... (full context)
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Still, Sportcoat doesn’t understand where Deems’s hostility is coming from. He asks Deems why he is so angry, and Deems reminds... (full context)
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Annoyed with Sportcoat, Deems continues to curse his name. Sportcoat tells Deems he’ll leave in a minute—he just has... (full context)
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As Sportcoat smothers Deems, he tells him that his father used to do something similar to him as a... (full context)
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The last thing Sportcoat tells Deems is that he might as well die as a young and healthy man rather than... (full context)
Chapter 26: Beautiful
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Elefante and Melissa are now married, and Potts is retired from the service. Meanwhile, Deems, as a result of his conversation with Sportcoat, is no longer selling drugs. Instead, he’s... (full context)
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...Sportcoat, the old deacon was walking into the water near the docks where he shot Deems. There, Sportcoat held a bottle of King Kong, which he no longer drank. Hot Sausage... (full context)