The ending of “Dusk” revolves around two interrelated ironies, both of which stem from Norman Gortsby’s condescending behavior and egocentric worldview. These interrelated ironies offer the reader a sort of lesson, reminding us of the dangers of judging ourselves to be too clever—a crime that ultimately leads to Gortsby’s defeat.
The short story opens with Gortsby at a park where he is taking pleasure in the supposed defeat of those around him. A young man approaches him, explaining that he is a visitor who is unable to remember the name or location of his hotel. The man explains that he left the hotel to purchase some soap, and he asks Gortsby if he would be willing to lend him some money. After the young man is unable to produce the aforementioned soap, Gortsby decides that the tale is too fanciful and thus a lie. The young man leaves Gortsby behind, but moments later Gortsby finds a small soap on the ground. Gortsby takes this as evidence that he was mistaken, and he leaves to find the man so that he can loan him some money.
Gortsby takes the encounter as a reminder to trust others, noting that “It’s a lesson to me not to be too clever in judging by circumstances.” This “lesson” is another moment of Gortsby’s condescension, and the irony becomes clear a moment later when an old man comes by looking for his misplaced soap. The soap that Gortsby found and interpreted as evidence was nothing more than a coincidence: it was mistakenly dropped by another and of no relationship to the boy. Part of the irony of the ending revolves around this sudden epiphany so soon after Gortsby’s “lesson.”
The other irony of the ending is the way that it produces a reversal of the story’s opening. In the opening of the short story, we learn that Gortsby is in the park at dusk because he believes that it provides him with the opportunity to look out at the “men and women, who had fought and lost.” Gortsby takes a
certain cynical pleasure in observing and labeling his fellow wonders as they went their ways in the dark stretches between the lamp-light.
While Gortsby is at the park to objectify and take pleasure in what he might refer to as the losers around him, the ending of the story inverts this dynamic. The young man takes pleasure—and coin—from Gortsby, transforming him into an object in his scheme. The ironic twist of the end stems fully from Gortsby’s own condescending views of those around him, transforming him into a victim of his own ego.