Dunstan Ramsey's mother is a hardy Scotswoman; in Part 1, we see this formidable matriarch working alongside Dr. McCausland to save the severely premature Paul Dempster. She is a forceful character, a woman of 'unfailing good sense, who brooks no nonsense from those around her'. Dunstan tells us that his father is utterly devoted to his mother, although one gets the impression that Mrs.Ramsey would have tolerated no less from her husband.
In Dunstan's childhood, it is his mother who directs most of his steps: after the birth of Paul Dempster, she orders Dunstan 'to chop and pile wood, sweep away snow, cut the grass, weed the vegetable patch,' and generally make himself 'handy two or three times a week and on Saturdays if necessary.' Mrs. Ramsey also holds Dunstan responsible for keeping an eye on the sickly baby.
Dunstan's relationship with his mother is often fraught with conflict. At the age when most boys are forming their own identities and exploring their own destinies, Dunstan finds his autocratic and relentlessly imperious (bossy) mother suffocating. He develops a love for stage magic and fancies that he will grow up to be a 'matchless prestidigitateur,' an expert at conjuring magic tricks by hand.
Dunstan spends his whole life trying to distinguish himself as a separate entity from his mother. His need for her love and approval is superceded only by his desire to 'gain power in some realm into which my parents—my mother particularly—could not follow me.' Even after he is grown, Dunstan finds Freud'sOedipus Complex theory inadequate in defining the dysfunctional relationship which has haunted him throughout his life. Indeed, his preoccupation with motherly women like Mrs. Dempster and Diana illustrates his desperate, inner turmoil. His mental development is affected by his inability to distinguish between sacred and profane love in the Eternal Feminine:
How could I reconcile this motherliness with the screeching fury who had pursued me around the kitchen with a whip, flogging me until she was gorged with—what? Vengeance? What was it?
Because of his mother, Dunstan finds it hard to trust easily:
But what I knew then was that nobody—not even my mother—was to be trusted in a strange world that showed very little of itself on the surface.
It is interesting that Dunstan later meets up with Paul Dempster, whose illusionary magic as Magnus Eisengrim highlights the competitive struggle between the sacred and profane love for the soul of Faust.