If you’re reading ‘Dusk’ by Saki, you might have noticed the abstract nature of the story. This can be a bit confusing. Don’t worry; we’ve got your back. In this lesson, we offer a summary, analysis, and review of the characters.
‘Dusk’ is a short story written by Saki, otherwise known as Hector Hugh Munro. Saki was a British author who was known for ridiculing traditional thoughts and practices. No one knows why he chose the pen name Saki. ‘Dusk’ is one of his many successful short stories. Let’s take a look at its summary and characters and get a brief analysis.
Summary of ‘Dusk’
It’s a March evening and a man named Norman Gortsby sits on a park bench observing the happenings around him. Gortsby enjoys watching the bustle of miserable looking people heading home and in traffic. He is feeling a bit sorry for himself but still enjoys the gloom and hopelessness that engulfs the general mood of the people on the streets. He describes it as ”the hour of the defeated.” An older man sits next to him on the bench. He is a very well-dressed, respectable gentleman. On closer inspection, however, it becomes clearer that he’s from the pitifully unpopular orchestra. He looks like a depressed old man who can barely afford where he lives.
When the old man walks away a, young man angrily sits down and complains to himself. Gortsby addresses his bad mood, and the man explains why he’s so upset. As it turns out, he’s traveled to Berkshire Square to stay at the Patagonian Hotel only to find out it has been demolished. The taxi driver takes him to a different hotel. He steps out with enough money to buy himself a drink and a bar of soap. Now he doesn’t know where he’s staying and cannot get back.
The young man is aware that his story sounds like a scam. Gortsby mentions the time he pulled the same scam in a foreign city once. The young man quickly points out that a foreign city would’ve made things easier for him as he could’ve gone to the consul. He mentions again that he’ll be homeless for the night unless someone nice gives him money.
Gortsby’s no fool; he doesn’t believe the man. He asks him to produce this so-called soap he bought. The man searches his pockets but can’t produce it. He claims he has lost it. Knowing that Gortsby doesn’t believe him, he leaves.
Smugly, Gortsby stands up to walk away when he spots a bar of soap on the ground. The young man wasn’t lying after all. It had fallen out of his pocket when he sat down on the bench. Gortsby starts to look for the young man and finds him on one of the busy streets. He apologizes for not believing him and offers to loan him a sovereign, a gold coin worth a pound. The man takes the coin and Gortsby’s address. Gortsby lectures himself about how he should be less judgmental of people.
Just then, he spots the old man who’d been sitting next to him earlier. He’s looking for something. Turns out, the old man has lost a bar of soap.
Analysis of ‘Dusk’
‘Dusk’ is about how we are often quick to judge other people. Gortsby sits on the bench judging everyone walking by him, assuming they are all ”defeated.” He judges the old man sitting next to him for not being who he initially thought he was. Then, he quickly sizes up the young man to be a scam artist. When he thinks he’s been wrong, he is quick to absolve or free himself of his guilt by lending the young man money. In the end, Gortsby is cheated. The soap was a lie, and Gortsby should’ve trusted his first instinct.
Another point worth taking a closer look at in ‘Dusk’ is how much human beings truly want to believe in the goodness of other people. Gortsby thinks that he has it all figured out. He writes the old man off because he is kind of creepy and downtrodden. He knows that the fellow with the hotel story is lying. Then, he makes a discovery that causes him to second guess his cynical nature. Rather than sticking with that, he clings desperately to the hope that the man wasn’t lying when he discovers the bar of soap. Not only that, but he actually runs after the man, hunts him down, and gives him money. At the end of day, despite his seemingly sardonic outlook, Gortsby still wants to believe that people are good.
Characters in ‘Dusk’
Let’s briefly review each of the characters in this short story.
Gortsby is a bitter man who’s very cynical and takes pleasure in judging people. He doesn’t mean to be this way. His actions prove that he’s regretful of being so judgmental and does what he thinks is right.
The old man is initially described as a very well-dressed gentleman with a distinguished manner. Once he is in clear sight, it turns out he’s a member of an orchestra. Gortsby believes he is a miserable old man who probably lives from paycheck to paycheck.
The young man is well-dressed and angry. He makes up a convincing story to pull on the heart strings of strangers but doesn’t back it up with evidence (the soap).
‘Dusk‘ by Saki is about Norman Gortsby, who’s cheated by a young man about needing money. He tells Gortsby that he had set out to buy some soap and has now forgotten which hotel he’s staying at. Initially, Gortsby is suspicious, but he later finds a bar of soap on the ground, which confirms the young man’s story. His guilt from being judgmental drives him to seek out the young man. He ends up lending him a sovereign only to find out that the soap belongs to someone else. Saki uses Gortsby to examine ideas about judgment and the capacity to find good in others.