Fifth Business

Mrs. Mary Dempster Character Analysis

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 had lasting mental effects—people in the town repeatedly say that she has become “slow” or “simple.” Mary’s husband (Amasa) is a devout Baptist minister who does his best to take care of his wife and son, but Mary ultimately betrays him by wandering out one night and having consensual sex with a tramp (this act is considered a miracle by Dunstan, for the tramp was forever reformed after that night). After this, Amasa keeps her tied up in her house, and when her husband dies and her son Paul runs away, she goes insane. She eventually dies in a mental hospital under the guardianship of Dunstan, whom she is incapable of recognizing.

Mrs. Mary Dempster Quotes in Fifth Business

The Fifth Business quotes below are all either spoken by Mrs. Mary Dempster or refer to Mrs. Mary Dempster. 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:
Religion, Faith, and Morality Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of Fifth Business published in 2001.
Part 1 Quotes

I had made her what she was, and in such circumstances I must hate her or love her.

Related Characters: Dunstan Ramsay (speaker), Mrs. Mary Dempster
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

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In later life I have been sometimes praised, sometimes mocked, for my way of pointing out the mythical elements that seem to me to underlie our apparently ordinary lives.

Related Characters: Dunstan Ramsay (speaker), Mrs. Mary Dempster
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part 3 Quotes

“A fool-saint is somebody who seems to be full of holiness…but because he’s a fool it all comes to nothing…because it is virtue tainted with madness, and you can’t tell where it’ll end up.”

Related Characters: Father Regan (speaker), Dunstan Ramsay, Mrs. Mary Dempster
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part 4 Quotes

Now I should be able to see what a saint was really like and perhaps make a study of one without the apparatus of Rome, which I had no power to invoke. The idea possessed me that it might lie in my power to make a serious contribution to the psychology of religion.

Related Characters: Dunstan Ramsay (speaker), Mrs. Mary Dempster
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

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“What good would it do you if I told you she was indeed a saint? I cannot make saints, nor can the pope. We can only recognize saints when the plainest evidence shows them to be saintly.”

Related Characters: Padre Blazon (speaker), Dunstan Ramsay, Mrs. Mary Dempster
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

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Mrs. Mary Dempster Character Timeline in Fifth Business

The timeline below shows where the character Mrs. Mary Dempster appears in Fifth Business. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: “Mrs. Dempster”
Guilt and Sacrifice Theme Icon
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...narrator Dunstan Ramsay accounting for the exact date and time that his “lifelong involvement” with Mrs. Dempster began. Young Dunny (short for Dunstable) has been spending the afternoon sledding with his friend,... (full context)
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Mr. Dempster asks Dunny for help and he agrees. Mrs. Dempster is put on the sled and Dunny pulls it as Mr. Dempster walks alongside it... (full context)
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...and who is in Mrs. Ramsay’s opinion “silly” and “utterly unfit to be a preacher’s wife.” (full context)
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...up late and hears his mother come back to the house for supplies, saying that Mrs. Dempster has gone into premature labor, and that the birth is looking to be a difficult... (full context)
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...healthy, keeping him warm and feeding him while Mr. Dempster prays over his barely conscious wife as though she is about to die. He also prays that God will, if necessary,... (full context)
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The Ramsay’s house becomes disheveled and disorganized as Mrs. Ramsay spends long days at the Dempsters, but Mr. Ramsay thinks his wife is a wonderful woman, and would never “do anything... (full context)
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...tells him that the snowball hit his head, as it was supposed to, and not Mrs. Dempster’s —threateningly adding that Dunny ought to believe this story, too, or else. Dunny knows from... (full context)
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...Paul’s birth Dunny overhears his mother telling his father that Paul will likely survive—but that Mrs. Dempster seems to be permanently mentally impaired from the blow to the head. She’s “gone simple.”... (full context)
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...translates to Dunny’s inability to blame him anymore—he comes to find himself alone responsible for Mrs. Dempster’s condition. (full context)
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...pregnant. She seemed improperly happy when she was meant to be the shy and modest wife of a preacher. And Mr. Dempster was far too fond of her, helping her too... (full context)
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Mrs. Ramsay always tried to help Mrs. Dempster learn how to do feminine work. She’d had a servant as a child and was... (full context)
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...it is unnecessary or inappropriate. While the rest of town becomes increasingly off-put by the Dempsters, Mrs. Ramsay’s compassion does not waver, and the Ramsays take care of the Dempsters in... (full context)
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6. Dunny faces some social rejection due to his time spent with the Dempsters, but he has a quick wit and a way with words, and is able to... (full context)
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But Dunny believes he is truly in love with Mrs. Dempster. He loves her not in the way young boys often love older women, in a... (full context)
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...asking God for strength in bearing his heavy burden—and knows he is talking about his wife. Mr. Dempster used to love her authentically; she used to be “the blood of his... (full context)
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Dunny does not see much of the Dempsters after this. Every once in a while, he will see Mr. Dempster, looking more and... (full context)
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10. On a night in October in 1913, Mrs. Dempster disappears. The village organizes a hunt for her, and Dunny is told by his mother... (full context)
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The men spread out and begin to sweep across the pit in search of Mary Dempster. After about a quarter of a mile, Dunny hears a rustling in a clump... (full context)
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Someone points a pistol at the tramp and Amasa Dempster appears. He asks his wife, “‘Mary, what made you do it?’” Her simple answer becomes famous in Deptford: “‘He was... (full context)
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...shifted—she and Mr. Ramsay get in a loud fight about it. Mr. Ramsay accuses his wife of not being charitable, and she responds that she is shocked the man she married... (full context)
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...fire on the roof, but it doesn’t catch. Cece’s voice can be heard shouting for Mary to come outside. Dunstan wishes he could say Amasa Dempster came outside and faced them,... (full context)
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...a new job as a bookkeeper at the sawmill. It is rumored that he keeps Mary tied up in the house, with a long rope that allows her to move from... (full context)
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One day Dunny goes over to visit Mary. She is uneasy at first but then warms to him and they talk eagerly—she knows... (full context)
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...his mother, who would be furious if she knew. But Dunny begins to realize that Mrs. Dempster is helping him as much as he is helping her. He cannot fully explain it:... (full context)
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Eventually Dunny becomes so comfortable he doesn’t even notice the harness Mary has tied around her, or the dirty raggedness of her clothes, or her momentary lapses... (full context)
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Though they grow increasingly close, Dunny can never bring himself to ask Mary about the night with the tramp. He notes that her sexual indiscretion was a particular... (full context)
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12. Besides Mrs. Dempster , Dunny has no friends, and his life is lonely. Other kids at school accuse... (full context)
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Dunny’s father, in the aftermath of the mess with Mrs. Dempster , tries to befriend Dunny, and helps teach Dunny Latin. In addition, Mr. Ramsay has... (full context)
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Without knowing why, Dunny feels compelled to get Mrs. Dempster. He brings her back, and she touches Willie and calls his name. Willie wakes up... (full context)
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...house, and when Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay get home Amasa is with them. Amasa takes Mary home and Dunny’s parents grill him about why he chose to get Mrs. Dempster and... (full context)
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...comments that causing Willie to rise from the dead is what Dunstan considers to be Mrs. Dempster’s “second miracle.” (full context)
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...bring someone back from the dead, let alone someone with a deficit of character like Mrs. Dempster. (full context)
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...silent, and she correctly interprets that silence as resolve—Dunny will not change his mind about Mrs. Dempster. Finally his mother demands that he choose between her and “that woman.” Rather than choose,... (full context)
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...called to fight in WWI soon, and cannot bear to leave without saying goodbye to Mrs. Dempster. They had often discussed the war during Dunny’s visits. When he tells her he is... (full context)
Part 2: “I Am Born Again”
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...sent abroad, and he and his parents do not speak much. He longs to see Mrs. Dempster but knows he cannot. Leola admires him even more now that he is in his... (full context)
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...begins to “scream” with pain. He thinks of himself dying of tetanus. He thinks of Mrs. Dempster’s advice that he never be afraid. He finds this advice ludicrous now. (full context)
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...the crowned woman from Revelation, but suddenly sees that the face on the statue is Mrs. Dempster’s face. He loses consciousness. (full context)
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...give up. He also says that Amasa Dempster had died of the flu, but that Mary had survived. However Paul had run away with the circus just before Amasa died, unable... (full context)
Part 3: “My Fool-Saint”
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...feel embarrassed but he does not—for he recognizes Joel as the tramp who slept with Mary many years ago. (full context)
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Dunstan eventually tells Joel they have met before, and asks him about that might with Mary. Joel explains he was in a miserable state, and was being asked to perform sexual... (full context)
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Dunstan goes back to Deptford to ask about Mary’s whereabouts. Milo tells him she’s living with her aunt, Bertha Shanklin, in Weston. Then Dunstan... (full context)
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8. Mary Dempster is now 40 but looks younger than her age. Bertha is a small old... (full context)
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...can’t stand to be apart from him. Dunstan finally asks Paul if he may tell Mary that he is alive and well; Paul says he does not mean to see her,... (full context)
Part 4: “Gyges and King Candaules”
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...Dempster. Dunstan can never stay very long, because Bertha believes long visits are taxing for Mary. Sometimes Bertha’s lawyer, Orpheus Wettenhall, also visits while Dunstan is there. “Orph,” as he is... (full context)
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...talk after. Dunstan has been named as Bertha’s executor, and has also been named as Mary Dempster’s public guardian. Orph is sadder than Dunstan is used to seeing him, and mentions... (full context)
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...still felt the weight of his childhood actions all this time, and that guardianship of Mary is a more appropriate way to atone. He also begins to think earnestly again about... (full context)
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Dunstan does not have enough money to put Mary up in a private care facility and has to admit her to a public mental... (full context)
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...to hear more of what he has to say. Dunstan decides to tell him about Mrs. Dempster and her Sainthood, and Padre Blazon says that if he recognizes her as a saint... (full context)
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...had died young, and knew nothing of old age. He believes Dunstan should determine who Mary Dempster is in “his own personal world” and that in doing so, he will come... (full context)
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4. Even though Dunstan appreciates Padre Blazon’s advice, the visits with Mrs. Dempster continue to weigh on him. Her stay in the hospital has made her dull and... (full context)
Part 5: “Liesl”
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...is not in the least bit fond of her. He tells her everything about the Dempsters, about the miracles, and about Paul’s childhood. He begs of her the next day to... (full context)
Part 6: “The Soirée of Illusions”
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Dunstan is able to transfer Mrs. Dempster to a private care facility. His happiness and relief at being able to do so... (full context)
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2. Dunstan is depressed by the fact that his own stupidity is to blame for Mrs. Dempster’s renewed misery. In the midst of this loss, Boy marries a woman who does not... (full context)
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4. A year after Boy and Denyse are married, Mrs. Dempster dies. Dunstan thinks his disclosure of Paul’s existence broke her in some way, and led... (full context)
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...his mother beat him because of the missing egg. The next day he arranges for Mrs. Dempster’s body to be cremated. Before she is sent away, he prays over her body for... (full context)
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...phrase in the same way as others, and asks Dunstan to repeat the story of Mary Dempster to him. (full context)
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...he has thought about his fool-saint. He admits few others could ever be convinced of Mary Dempster’s sainthood, but that it should be enough for Dunstan that his saint illuminated his... (full context)
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...Salzburg, he recognizes the Madonna that he saw on the battlefield. The face is not Mary Dempster’s face, but the hair did resemble Mrs. Dempster’s. Dunstan does not get a photo... (full context)
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...of Dunstan’s cigars, opening a box on his shelf. Instead of cigars, the box holds Mrs. Dempster’s ashes. Paul asks Dunstan why he would keep such a thing in his room. (full context)
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...is the reason, and discloses the story of the snowball, and his own role in Mary Dempster’s misfortune. Boy says Dunstan has made a big deal out of nothing, that the... (full context)