What is theme of "Dusk" by Saki?

The main themes of "Dusk" by Saki include deception, false appearances, and the infallibility of judgement. The conceited Gortsby thinks he's an excellent observer of human nature, but his confidence in his own judgement proves misplaced after an encounter with a con man.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"Dusk" is a short story written by British short story writer and satirist Hector Hugh Munro, most commonly known by his pen name Saki and occasionally known by H. H. Munro. It was originally published in his 1930 collection of short stories titled The Complete Short Stories of Saki.

"Dusk" follows an intelligent and somewhat judgmental and cynical young man named Norman Grotsby, who comes across and is deceived by one, or maybe even two, con artists. There are many socially relevant themes which are represented in the story such as deception, human nature, pessimism, perception, and uncertainty; however, the main theme seems to be the importance and inevitability of fate, as Saki often mocked the overconfident and falsely superior British elites and enjoyed making them 'victims' of fate.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One could argue that the main theme of "Dusk" concerns the dangers of judging a book by its cover. Having observed the massed ranks of the defeated coming and going from his vantage point in the park, Norman Gortsby has come to think of himself as an expert at judging people. He can tell just by looking at them what their life situations are, which gives him a certain smug sense of satisfaction. When the young man rocks up on the bench beside him, he has no reason to think that his supposedly superior ability to read other people has in any way deserted him.

Yet it most certainly has—or perhaps he never really had this ability in the first place. Either way, Gortsby has been made to look a right fool by his prejudging of the young man. The uncomfortable truth is he doesn't know quite as much about other people as he thinks he does. Worse still, he never gets to find out whether the young man was telling him the truth or if he really was a panhandler all along.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The main theme of the short story "Dusk" is the inscrutability of human nature. Despite our best efforts, our conclusions about others are often nothing more than speculative convictions. We know less than we think we do about the motives, impulses, and objectives of our fellow man.

In the story, Norman speculates about the lives of those he comes across. He sees dusk "as the hour of the defeated" and believes that dusk completely hides one's true self from others. He readily admits that he is "heartsore and disillusioned." However, he does not reveal the reasons for his melancholy. Just as dusk hides others' true selves from him, Norman's reticence hides his true motives, impulses, and objectives from us.

Although Norman himself remains largely inscrutable to us, he does not shy away from speculating about the lives of others. He imagines that an old man he sees is "one of the world's lamenters who induce no responsive weeping." Norman theorizes that the old man is probably poor and shown little regard within his home circle.

Norman's reticence is only matched by his conceit. In his encounter with the young man, Norman imagines that he can rightly discern the youth's motives. However, he is soon proven wrong when the young man outsmarts him. So, the main theme of the short story is the inscrutability of human nature: we know less than we think about what compels others to act the way they do.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team