In Saki's story "Dusk," what kind of impression do you form about the young man? Do you think he is smart and clever or plain lucky?  

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My impression of the young man is that he is very bold and temperamental. He must be smart to be able to memorize the complicated story he tells Norman Gortsby. It is so complicated that it is hard to remember the details or to understand what he is after.

He says he just came to London from the country intending to stay at a hotel which he didn't know had been torn down. He had to find another hotel, and then, being unfamiliar with the big city, he lost his way when he went out to buy a cake of soap and couldn't find his hotel again. The cake of soap is a nice touch because it characterizes him--at least in his story--as an affluent country gentleman who is used to having the best of everything. One would think that the soap supplied by a good hotel would be satisfactory for most people--although the hotel soap in London hotels a hundred years ago might have been the same kind of slippery, parsimonious little bars we get in American hotels and motels today.

He tells Gortsby:

"I'd forgotten to pack any and I hate using hotel soap."

He seems a very forgetful young man. He loses his hotel, forgets to pack his own soap, apparently neglects to make reservations at the Patagonian Hotel where he had originally intended to stay, and then loses the cake of soap he went to so much trouble to buy. Yet he has his story down pat.

What the young man implies that he needs is enough money to get him into yet another hotel for at least one night, until he can contact his "people" in the country and have them give him the address of his second hotel. When he found that he wouldn't be staying at the hotel that had been demolished, he sent a letter to his relatives giving them the address of the alternative hotel. His relatives know where he lives but he doesn't. He sounds like someone who stumbles through life making an endless succession of mistakes. Yet perhaps this is intended to characterize him, in the eyes of people he hopes to swindle, as the sort of gentleman of leisure who needs a secretary and a valet to take care of trivial matters for him.

He seems smart enough, but I couldn't call him lucky. He was just lucky that one night--and that was by the weirdest coincidence of the elderly gentleman losing the cake of soap by the bench. Saki describes him as a young man. Youth is an important element. He is apparently just starting out on a career as a confidence trickster and hasn't yet developed his craft sufficiently. He is trying to extract money from strangers by gaining their "confidence," but he hasn't had enough experience to develop his own "confidence." He might be called the un-confident confidence man. But he is learning. In the future he will carry a cake of soap in his pocket, but he won't bring it out and display it unless the "mark" should question him about it, as Gortsby ends up doing.

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

"I must have lost it," he muttered angrily.

He displays a lot of anger for a confidence man, whom one would expect to be smooth. He is not angry about losing the soap, because he never had it. What he is angry about is that he has wasted time telling his complicated story to a cynical young man who obviously never had any intention of lending him money and might not even have any money himself. He expresses anger when he plops down on the bench and more anger when he gets up to leave. Who would want to lend money to such a volatile stranger?