ICSE Stories: Dusk by Saki

Dusk by Saki

Main points:

  1. As is typical of Saki, there is a subtle irony to his story, “Dusk,” in which a complacent, yet heart-weary Norman Gortsby rests on a park bench in the Park in London at twilight. The scene harmonised with his present mood. Dusk, to his mind, was the hour of the defeated.
  2. But, little does Gortsby know that he will be counted among these defeated that he sees and regards. The people who come to sit in the park at this time of night come because the scrutinizing looks of others cannot notice the shabbiness of their clothes or the “bowed shoulders and unhappy eyes.”
  3. As Gortsby sits in the dusk, he counts himself among them, having become “heartsore and disillusioned.” In this state, he feels a cynical pleasure in observing and marking the passers-by. He also thinks of the darkness of the dusk and the flickering lights of the may casements thrown open that represent the winners in life, or those people who had not accepted defeat. These people could carry on in the usual way through the dusk and they did not collect in the park in the fashion of the bats.
  4. Observing the elderly gentleman who sits beside him on a bench, Gortsby judges him as “one of the world’s lamenters who induce no responsive weeping” (one of the defeated people in the world, who are not respected and pitied).  As he departs, Gortsby imagines him returning to a place where no one takes notice of him
  5. Then, a fairly well-dressed young man comes up immediately, flinging himself down as he utters a “very audible expletive” (frustrating and abusive language that was clearly audible). Gortsby asks him what is wrong, and the young man looks at him with a “disarming frankness” (straight forward glance) that puts Gortsby on his guard. The young man tells him he arrived in town only to learn that the hotel at which he had intended to stay had been torn down. So he was sent to another hotel. But, when he discovered that he had forgotten to pack a bar of soap–he hates to use hotel soap–he went out to buy some with only a shilling on him.
  6. Now, he discovers that he cannot remember the hotel name of the street it is on.
  7. After a pause, the young man says that he supposes Gortsby believes that he has merely “spun a yarn” (given him a fictitious story).
  8. Judicially, Gortsby replies that it is not at all impossible since he and a friend did much the same thing in a foreign capital, but they remembered that the hotel was near a canal, so they found it. Then Gortsby adds with the “requisite decency” (the required civilised behaviour) that “the weak point of your story is that you can’t produce the soap.”
  9. Checking his pockets and jumping to his feet, the young man replies in anger, “I must have lost it” and runs off with an air of “jaded jauntiness” (dull and weak happiness).
  10. Reflecting upon what has happened, Gortsby decides that the young man would have been “a genius in his particular line” if he had produced a bar of soap wrapped and sealed by the chemist’s counter. Then, as he rises to go, Gortsby sees just that: a wrapped bar of soap.
  11. He rushes to catch up to the young man whom he finds on the border of the carriage drive; when Gortsby approaches, he turns abruptly with an air “of defensive hostility.” Holding out the soap, Gortsby says, “The important witness to the genuineness of your story has turned up.”
  12. He offers the young man a sovereign with his card so that the man can repay him. “Lucky thing your finding it,” says the young man with a catch in his voice, and he thanks him and hurries off.
  13. Feeling sorry for the youth whose voice sounded as though he were about to cry, Gortsby chastises (scolds) him for being hasty in judging circumstances.
  14. As he retraces his steps, he sees the elderly gentleman again. “Have you lost anything” he asks. “Yes, sir, a cake of soap,” the man replies.


“Dusk” is a darkly ironic tale. The protagonist, Gortsby, spends the duration of the story observing people at dusk. The story features third person limited point of view, so most of the character devolopment of Gortsby occurs through Gortsby’s thoughts. The character possesses a cynical view of the human state and has experienced defeat of his own. We do not know what that failure is on Gortsby’s part; we simply know that it is not a financial failure.

The first passer-by whom Gortsby observes is an older man who seems dejected and reluctant to go home. The protagonist thinks that he most likely receives no respect at home or that he goes home to a place that he can barely afford to keep. Shortly after Gortsby’s observation begins, the old man gets up from the bench and walks away.

The second “victim” of Gortsby’s cynicism is a young man who is better dressed than the first and who makes a show of being very upset. Gortsby begins to talk to him, and the young man tells him that he has forgotten the name of the hotel at which he is supposed to be staying and that he has no money on him. He left his hotel room to get a bar of soap and a drink and cannot find his way back to his lodgings. Gortsby is sceptical about the young man’s integrity and mentions that he has a good story but that he failed to produce proof of his predicament–a bar of soap. The young man realizes that his con has failed and flees the scene.

Gortsby prepares to sit back and gloat over his wise judgment of human nature when he spots a wrapped bar of soap near the park bench. He thinks that he has misjudged the young man, runs after him, apologizes for disbelieving him, and gives him money. Gortsby walks back to his bench, slightly chagrined. Moments later, the first old man returns to the bench and tells Gortsby that he is looking for his bar of soap.

Saki ironically leaves the reader with the lesson that one should not be too confident in his or her view of the human character.

Two elements of humour that the author uses in this story are comic irony and satire. Comic irony occurs when the reader knows something that a character does not, and in this story is evidenced when the young man ends his sad tale with a veiled request for money. The man obviously has told his story to make Gortsby feel sorry for him and lend him some money, but Gortsby does not know for sure that his story is a lie. Satire is the use of humour to expose a human frailty (weakness). Gortsby’s inability to judge his counterparts correctly is comically pointed out in his unstated chagrin when he discovers that, through his own miscalculation, he has allowed the young man to outwit him with his sad story of the soap.


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