What is the negative aspect of "Dusk"?  

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to the Wikipedia article on Saki, he was a Tory and a reactionary. This means he was probably unsympathetic to the conditions of the poor. No doubt he subscribed to the popular philosophy of the period called Social Darwinism, the notion that the human race is improved through the struggle for survival. Darwin himself was strongly influenced by the ideas of Thomas Malthus, who taught that there would always be poverty and hunger because populations grow faster than food supplies. The negative aspect of Saki's story "Dusk" is the implied message that if you feel compassion for anyone you are probably going to be injured--selfishness is good, altruism and generosity are bad. For example, by giving the young con artist a sovereign Gortsby is encouraging, i.e. conditioning, him to try the same scam on other gullible people. Gortsby learns a lesson in this story. And then at the end he is faced with a test to determine whether he has learned that lesson. 

Returning to the vicinity of the park bench where he had been sitting, Gortsby sees an elderly gentleman searching all around that bench. It is the same elderly gentleman who had been sitting beside Gortsby for awhile before the young con man took his place. 

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

"Yes, sir, a cake of soap."

This makes Gortsby realize he has been swindled. It also presents him with a moral problem. Should he tell the elderly gentleman that he found the cake of soap and mistakenly gave it away to someone else? If so, shouldn't he offer to pay for the soap? The story ends without Gortsby saying or doing anything further. But the reader should feel at this point that Gortsby will keep right on going and mind his own business. The elderly gentleman 

...belonged unmistakably to that forlorn orchestra to whose piping no one dances; he was one of the world's lamenters who induce no responsive weeping.

Gortsby's experience with the young con artist must have soured him on the idea of helping the unfortunate. This is what Saki was trying to teach in his story. If the old man was stupid enough to lose his cake of soap then that was his tough luck. He was born to be a loser. On the other hand, if the old man was another con artist--which was a possibility--then Gortsby would have been wise not to get involved with him.

What did Gortsby do?

What would you do?

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The response to this question depends a lot on what you mean precisely by "negative aspect." I suppose one profoundly negative (but also bitterly ironic) aspect of this brilliant tale is the way that the young man who is trying to trick Gortsby manages to get away with it, not because of the brilliance of his ability to deceive and trick others, but because of an accident of fate. Let us remember that the one flaw in his otherwise strong story is the absence of a bar of soap. This is something that Gortsby realises and points out, using this as proof that the young man is lying and trying to deceive him. It is only the discovery of the bar of soap by the bench where the young man was sitting that convinces Gortsby that the young man was genuine, which leads him to lend the young man some money. Yet note what happens at the end of the story as Gortsby returns to this bench, thinking that it is wrong to judge by circumstances:

As Gortsby retraced his steps past the seat where the little drama had taken place he saw an elderly gentleman poking and peering beneath it and on all sides of it, and recognised his earlier fellow occupant.

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

"Yes, sir, a cake of soap."

Of course, this shows the mistake that Gortsby has made and also indicates that the young man was lying after all, and that he has managed to get away with having tricked Gortsby. This would be one "negative aspect" of this tale.

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