The elderly gentleman as well as the young gentleman in the story "Dusk" by Saki (H. H. Munro) are unnamed, though they play an important part. Why?Why has the main character, Norman Gortsby, been...

The elderly gentleman as well as the young gentleman in the story "Dusk" by Saki (H. H. Munro) are unnamed, though they play an important part. Why?

Why has the main character, Norman Gortsby, been named though the other characters around which his story revolves are not?

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billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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By not naming either the young man or the old man in his story, Saki underscores the fact that they are both strangers. This is also implicit in the fact that it is getting dark, so that Gortsby can barely see either of their faces. He doesn't know either of them, and they don't know him. So why should he allow himself to get drawn into their problems? Saki tells us that Gortsby himself is a young man. This story is about his learning experience resulting from his encounters with these two nameless, faceless strangers. 

Saki would have a difficult time imparting the names of either of these two strangers to the reader because he has chosen to remain tightly confined to Gortsby's point of view. The only way the reader could get either stranger's name would be if that man introduced himself to Gortsby. That would be highly unlikely in the case of the elderly gentleman, since they haven't spoken a word to each other before that stranger tells Gortsby he lost a cake of soap. The young con artist might have introduced himself when he sat down on the bench, but it would have seemed awkward and inappropriate. The appropriate time for him to tell Gortsby his name was when Gortsby gave him the sovereign and the cake of soap. This fledgling swindler didn't have the presence of mind to make up a fictitious name at that time, and he certainly didn't want to give his benefactor his real name. 

When Gortsby passes the bench where he had been sitting, he realizes he has been cheated because the elderly gentleman is obviously the real owner of the cake of soap which Gortsby had just given to the man who swindled him. At this point Gortsby is presented with a moral problem. He is the only person who knows what happened to the old man's soap. Should he tell him that he found it and gave it away to someone else? If so, should he offer to buy the old man another cake of soap? After all, it wasn't the old man's fault that Gortsby got cheated out of a sovereign. 

What will Gortsby do? His decision will be affected by what this evening's learning experience taught him. Most likely he will have realized that the world is full of strangers with troubles and it isn't his role in life to be a Don Quixote trying to fix everything. For all Gortsby knows, the elderly gentleman may be another con artist. He seems awfully sure that he dropped his soap somewhere right near that bench. If he lost the soap, how can he know where he lost it? If he knew where he lost it, it wouldn't be lost. There is a good possibility that he planted the soap there with the intention of going away and then coming back in a few minutes in order to use it as an excuse for striking up a conversation and telling Gortsby approximately the same story about losing his hotel when he went out to buy the cake of soap. Gortsby would probably decide to keep right on walking and minding his own business. He helped a man who didn't deserve it, and now he will probably refuse to help a man who does deserve it.

What would you do?

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

In his short story, "Dusk," the brillant satirist of the minds and manners of the upper class of Great Britain, Saki, wishes his focus to remain upon his main character Norman Gortsby.  In fact, the very name of this character indicates his self-assurance that he is the one who is in control of situations.  (The Normans conquered England in 1066, killing all the Anglo-Saxon lords.)  Saki focuses on the subjectivity of Gortsby, his pettiness, and cynicism.  It is he who is in the spotlight for the satire of Saki, and the reader's opinion has nothing to do with the minor place of the other characters.

By Saki's not naming the other characters, they remain in the "dusk" where people cannot distinguish all about a person.  This lack of specificity about the other characters also suggests Gortsby's failing to be as keenly observant as he prides himself.  So, when in the denouement of the story, as Gortsby chastises himself "not to be too clever in judging by circumstances," the reader clearly understands the irony that Gortsby himself has been the butt of his own criticism.

Because he keeps his other characters in the "dusk," Saki's story is very effective.  In Edgar Allan Poe's words, a short story must have a precisely single focus, and, certainly, Saki accomplishes this goal.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Of course, this is simply a matter of opinion.  My opinion, however, is that Saki does not name these characters because they are not important as individuals.  Their only importance in this story is in how Gortsby interacts with them and how he perceives them.  Therefore, Gortsby is the only important character.

To me, the story is about how people cannot really understand the world around them.  I think that this is why it is called "Dusk."  The word evokes a time when it is difficult to see clearly and when things are blurred by shadows and soft light.  We think we can see, but we have trouble.

In this story, it is hard for Gortsby to truly understand the nature of the two men.  They are symbols, to me, of the world in general and the story is showing how hard it is for him to understand the world in general.  Because of this, I think the men are only symbols and it is not important to name them.

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