Why does Gortsby in Saki's story "Dusk" say that the weak point of the young man's story is that he could not produce soap?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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As an observer of mankind, Norman Gortsby feels that he can figure out who tells the truth and who does not.  His favorite time was the dusk of the evening. Gortsby believes that the people who are failures or are struggling in life come out at that time.  The main character counts himself among this category in the story “Dusk” by Saki.

Gortsby sits every evening on a bench in the park and observes people.  On this dusk, he encounters two different men.  One older man seems to be a little depressed and yet defiant in his attitude.  His dress is shabby.  The elderly man does not stay long. 

Soon, the older man is replaced by an agitated younger  man.  Eventually, he tells his story to Gortsby.  He could not remember where his hotel was; in addition, he had left his billfold and money in his room.  Since it was evening, he did not know where he was going to stay. The young man had gone out to buy some soap because he did not like the soap in the hotel.  He had no friends or relatives to help him, thus, he did not know what he was going to do.

Doubting the young man’s story, Gortsby asked the young man where the soap that he had bought was.  Looking around as though he had lost his package of soap, the man told Gortsby that he guessed that he had lost his package. Obviously, the young man had wanted to scam Gortsby of some money.  The scam artist leaves somewhat downhearted. 

Thinking that the man would have been convincing if he had thought to have a bar of soap with him, Gortsby decides to return home.

"It was a pity," mused Gortsby; "the going out to get one's own soap was the one convincing touch in the whole story, and yet it was just that little detail that brought him to grief. If he had had the brilliant forethought to provide himself with a cake of soap, wrapped and sealed with all the solicitude of the chemist's counter, he would have been a genius in his particular line.

As he gets up, Gortsby finds a package with soap in it.  He immediately feels something akin to remorse and hurries to find the young man and return the soap and offer him some money. 

When he finds the young man, Gortsby gives him some money to make it through the night.  He also gives the other man his business card, so he can pay him back.

Returning back by the bench, Gortsby notices the old man who was there before searching around the bench.  Gortsby asks him for what he was looking.  The elderly gentleman tells him he is looking for the package of soap that he had bought earlier.

Obviously, Gortsby is not the judge of character that he thought that he was.  If he had stuck to his guns, Gortsby could have saved some money.

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billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The young stranger tells Gortsby that he left his hotel to buy a cake of soap. He ought to have the cake of soap in his possession to serve as proof of his story.

It seems possible that the elderly gentleman who actually owned the cake of soap may have been another con artist himself. But being older and more experienced, that elderly gentleman might have had the foresight to purchase a cake of soap. Then he might have deliberately left it near the bench with the intention of coming back and pretending to search for it as an excuse for striking up a conversation with Gortsby. Unfortunately for the elderly gentleman, he finds both the soap and Gortsby are gone.

The fact that this elderly gentleman might have been planning to tell Gortsby pretty much the same story about losing his hotel after going out to buy a cake of soap does not have to be such a great coincidence. These types of scams circulate among the grifters and eventually become so familiar to the public that new scams have to be invented.

The story about the lost hotel is a good one because it makes the con man seem like a person of means who can be trusted to repay the short-term loan he is requesting in order to be able to rent a room at another hotel for just one night.

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