What do you think about the Norman Gortsby in the story "Dusk"?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Norman Gortsby is the viewpoint character in "Dusk." The author's intention is to show Norman having a learning experience which will convey a message to the reader. At first Norman does not feel particularly sympathetic to all the people he sees at dusk whom he considers "defeated"--that is defeated in the struggle for existence. There is an "elderly gentleman" seated beside him on the park bench who also appears to be one of the defeated, and Gortsby feels no particular sympathy for him either. Shortly after this elderly gentleman departs, his place is taken by a young man who tells Gortsby a very complicated hard-luck story. This stranger represents himself as a member of the country gentry who doesn't know a soul in London.

"In a foreign city I wouldn't mind so much," he said; "one could go to one's Consul and get the requiste help from him....Unless I can find some decent chap to swallow my story and lend me some money I seem likely to spend the night on the embankment."

Gortsby listens to the story with amused skepticism.

"Of course," said Gortsby slowly, "the weak point of your story is that you can't produce the soap."

But after the young man has left in a huff, Gortsby finds a cake of soap below the bench. He immediately experiences a change of heart, not only about the young stranger but about unfortunate people in general. He vows to be more understanding and sympathetic in the future.

"It's a lesson to me not to be too clever in judging by circumstances."

Gortsby is by no means a gentleman of leisure. He works in an office during the day and relaxes on a park bench before going home to his little flat. He has to be the sort of man to whom the loss of a sovereign (one pound) will be a painful experience. He hurries after the young con artist because he feels he has wrongfully insulted someone who belongs to a higher social class and that he has missed an opportunity to make a valuable friendship, one which would have cost him nothing, since he now believes the con man would have paid him back within a day or two.

Then when he returns to the vicinity of the park bench, after giving the con man a sovereign, the cake of soap, and his card,

...he saw an elderly gentleman poking and peering beneath it and on all sides of it, and recognized his earlier fellow occupant.

"Have you lost anything, sir?" he asked.

"Yes, sir, a cake of soap."

Gortsby realizes that his original cynical and skeptical attitude had been the correct one and that his soft-heartedness and gullibility had cost him a sovereign. Furthermore, the fact that this elderly gentleman seems so certain he lost his cake of soap by that bench strongly suggests that this old man is another con artist who left it there deliberately with the intention of coming back and using it as a ploy to start a conversation with Gortsby. It seems as if the world is full of con artists. You can't trust anybody. You should look out for Number One.

Gortsby's epiphany is Saki's message. Saki has been described as a Tory and a reactionary. He was undoubtedly strongly opposed to the growing popularity of socialism in his day. His character Norman Gortsby will be even more cynical and unsympathetic than he was before he fell victim to a clever trickster who wanted to enjoy a life of leisure at the expense of others who had to work hard for their money.