Perhaps we can understand the setting, tone, mood and message of “Dusk” better if we consider certain facts about the author Saki, whose real name was H. H. Munro. According to an article in Wikipedia:
Munro was homosexual; but, at that time in the U.K., sexual activity between men was a crime. The Cleveland Street scandal (1889), followed by the downfall of Oscar Wilde (1895), meant that “that side of [Munro’s] life had to be secret”. Politically, Munro was a Tory and somewhat reactionary in his views.
Gay men used to frequent public parks in big cities to pick up strangers. Promiscuity was far more common before the advent of AIDS tended to enforce monogamy.
David Leavitt writes about the male homosexual subculture of the early twentieth century in his novel While England Sleeps, which is covered “In Depth” by eNotes.
The outstanding feature of Leavitt’s novel is its vivid description of the homosexual subculture in England in the years just prior to World War II. His narrator-protagonist Brian Botsford likes to pick up men in public lavatories. He also frequents certain parks where lonely homosexuals promenade in the dark and engage in mutual masturbation, sodomy, and oral copulation with faceless strangers. The police conduct surprise sweeps that sometimes net and publicly disgrace erstwhile pillars of society.
And now the sound of footsteps filled the air, the sound of pants being pulled up, of change jiggling in pockets and belts being redone. The bushes had come alive, everywhere men were abandoning their lovers of a few moments, hurrying toward the fence as they fled the torches that danced like fireflies and were getting closer.
Dusk creates an atmosphere of fear and guilt. It is haunted by the unseen presence of the police as well as the specter of social condemnation. Although Saki doesn’t say so, dusk was the time when gay men began to congregate in parks. Munro probably had considerable experience lounging on park benches at nightfall. He does not say that his hero—or alter ego—Gortsby was gay, but that could explain why the young man was so well acquainted with the passing parade.
The fact that Munro was a “Tory” and “somewhat reactionary in his views” suggests that Gortsby had little sympathy for those he thought of as “the defeated.” Gortsby refuses to help the young stranger who says he lost his hotel. Then he repents and gives him a sovereign. He finds out he has been swindled and realizes that his cynical, pessimistic, selfish attitude was the correct one and that his philanthropy and benevolence were foolish. Gortsby, like his creator Saki, has become a "Social Darwinist," defined in Google as:
The theory that individuals, groups, and peoples are subject to the same Darwinian laws of natural selection as plants and animals. Now largely discredited, social Darwinism was advocated by Herbert Spencer and others in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was used to justify political conservatism, imperialism, and racism and to discourage intervention and reform.
"Dusk" is a short story by the British author Saki, a penname for H.H. Munroe.
"Dusk" begins with its main character, Norman Gortsby, sitting on a park bench at dusk. As he sits on the bench, Gortsby sees many different things:
*the darkness "mitigated [made weaker] by some faint moonlight and many street lamps"
*"brilliant lights and noisy, rushing traffic"
*"many unconsidered figures [people] moving silently through the half-light, or dotted unobtrusively on bench and chair"
*"windows shone through the dusk and almost dispersed it"
*people with "shabby clothes and bowed shoulders and unhappy eyes"
These sights cause Gortsby to philosophise about his own failures and about the failures of the shabby people that he sees around him. He is led to the conclusion that dusk is "the hour of the defeated."
When you read to the end of the story, you will see that three different characters--Gortsby, the old man, and the young man-- are defeated in different ways:
*the young man is outsmarted by Gortsby and is denied--at least temporarily--the loan that he seeks;
*Gortsby is fooled by the bar of soap that he finds under the park bench and ends up giving charity to an undeserving swindler;
*the poor old man loses his bar of soap