“The Umbrella Man” and “Dusk” have one striking thing in common. The two tricksters obtain money by posing as men who don’t need money. The message in both stories seems to be that charity is wasted on the undeserving.
In “The Umbrella Man” the mother's money is not only wasted on the elderly trickster, but he wastes it on liquor and then steals another umbrella. He makes the mother believe--initially at least--that she is assisting a member of a superior social class. She tells her daughter:
“A real gentleman. Wealthy, too, otherwise he wouldn’t have had a silk umbrella. I shouldn’t be surprised if he isn’t a titled person.”
She reveals her inferior social status when she says to her daughter:
“Aren’t we lucky? I’ve never had a silk umbrella before. I couldn’t afford it.”
In “Dusk” the young trickster poses as an upper-class country gentleman by mentioning that he was planning to stay at the presumably ritzy "Patagonian Hotel in Berkshire Square" and then explaining that he had to have special soap because he couldn’t stand hotel soap. He also tries to suggest to the skeptical Norman Gortsby that he is quite used to foreign travel.
“In a foreign city I wouldn’t mind so much,” he said; “one could go to one’s Consul and get the requisite 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.”
His language sounds upper class. The words “decent chap” are a neat touch. They sound like Oxford and Eton. But Gortsby remains skeptical until he finds the cake of soap. Then he feels he has offended a member of a higher social class and goes rushing after him to make amends, no doubt he imagining making a friend who might invite him to his family’s country mansion. After all, the trickster has told him suggestively:
“That’s a nice predicament for a fellow who hasn’t any friends or connections in London!”
If the tricksters in these stories had been panhandlers, both would have been lucky to get even one shilling and would have received countless rejections. But by posing as gentlemen of leisure they are each able to extract a whole pound.
The stories by Roald Dahl and Saki resemble Mark Twain’s “The Million Pound Bank Note,” published in 1893. In that short story two wealthy and eccentric Englishmen give a banknote worth one million pounds to a poor, hungry American named Henry Adams, just to amuse themselves by seeing what will happen. Adams finds that he can’t spend the money because no one can give him change for a million pound note. But everyone insists on giving him things for nothing, including meals in expensive restaurants. Adams becomes famous as an eccentric American millionaire and ends up a millionaire himself.
The moral of the stories by Dahl and Saki, as well as the story by Mark Twain, might be expressed by such old sayings as “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” or “The rich get richer and the poor get children,” or “Money goes to money.” In both "Dusk" and "The Umbrella Man," people of limited means gladly part with their hard-earned money in the belief that they are obliging aristocrats.
Mark Twain also dramatized the psychological power of money and social position in his novel The Prince and the Pauper, and Charles Dickens shows the amazing transformation of the people who knew Pip as a poor orphan when he comes into his fortune in Great Expectations.