The incident in 1908 is pivotal to an understanding of Fifth Business. Two ten-year-old boys are playing. Percy Boyd Staunton throws a snowball with a stone in it at Dunstable Ramsay, who dodges the missile; it hits the pregnant Mary Dempster instead. She goes into premature labor as a result and brings her son Paul into the world eighty days ahead of schedule. She is never the same after this event and is regarded by people in Deptford as insane. Staunton's missile apparently has altered the world in an unforeseen way.
The most obvious theme that is directly tied to this incident is guilt. Dunstan Ramsay feels responsible for Mrs. Dempster's condition. He describes how as a child he listened "guilt-ridden" to his mother's account of the first six months of the life of the premature Paul Dempster. Burdened with a Presbyterian conscience, Ramsay carries his guilt with him for the rest of his life, providing for Mrs. Dempster until she dies. In contrast, Mrs. Dempster's son Paul runs away from home before the age of ten because his father holds him responsible for his mother's madness and because he is subject to the cruel jokes of people who think there is something funny about her. Staunton's response is a third possibility. When confronted by young Ramsay with his crime, Staunton refuses to acknowledge his responsibility for Mrs. Dempster's condition, and he promptly forgets the incident. Thus, he can join in with the other Deptford youth calling...
(The entire section is 1940 words.)
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