Dusk Summary

Dusk” is a short story by British author Saki, first published in 1934.

  • The story follows Norman Gortsby, a man who has just been tricked by a young panhandler in London’s Hyde Park.
  • Despite this, Gortsby feels sympathetic toward the young man and sets out to find him, eventually finding and returning what he believes to be the panhandler’s lost bar of soap.


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“Dusk” opens on Norman Gortsby, the character from whose perspective all the story’s events are seen. Gortsby is sitting on a bench in Hyde Park in London as the sun sets around 6:30 on an evening in March. He notices other people who are barely visible in the gathering gloom as they walk in the park or sit on benches.

This situation pleases Gortsby. He always thinks of dusk as a time associated with people who feel defeated. He thinks that such persons tend to come forth at dusk so they can be outside in their humble clothes and sad moods without being especially visible to other, more successful persons. Gortsby thinks the unsuccessful people who tend to appear at dusk do not want to be seen by others. They come to places like Hyde Park after the happier, more successful people have left.

Gortsby glimpses the well-lit windows of nearby houses and apartments. He assumes that those places are the dwellings of the successful—or at least those who have not been forced to admit defeat in life’s struggles. Gortsby feels defeated, yet his sadness is not due to lack of money. Instead, he feels defeated because he “failed in a more subtle ambition,” the precise nature of which the story never makes clear. In any case, Gortsby enjoys sitting on a bench and passing sardonic judgment on the other people in the park at dusk.

Next to him on the bench is an old man who seems nearly defeated and definitely depressed. His clothes are not especially unattractive, but the old man does not by any means look rich. He seems lonely, as if no one cares about him. When the old man leaves, Gortsby assumes he is returning to a dwelling where he is basically ignored.

Almost as soon as the old man leaves, a young man sits down in the same spot on the bench. Although his clothes look fairly decent, he also seems depressed. In fact, when the young man sits down, he lets out a loud and angry curse. When Gortsby comments to the youth that he seems unhappy, the young man explains his predicament. He explains that he came to London earlier in the day, intending to stay at a respected hotel. However, when he arrived he discovered that the hotel had been demolished. A taxi driver suggested a substitute hotel. The young man went there, sent a note to his out-of-town relatives to tell them where he was staying, and then exited the hotel in search of some soap. He had neglected to pack soap but he disliked using soap provided by hotels. After purchasing the soap, he walked around for a while, had a drink, and did some sight-seeing. Only then did he realize that he could not remember either the name or the location of the hotel. He has no friends or relatives in London, so he is essentially stranded in the large city for at least one night with no place to stay—at least until his out-of-town relatives receive his letter.

The youth himself admits that his story sounds improbable. However, Gortsby remarks that something similar once happened to him in the capital city of a foreign country. But in his case, he was eventually able to find his way back to his hotel. In response, the youth comments that if he had become lost in a city overseas, he could at least go to the British embassy to ask for assistance. He says that when misfortunes occur in one’s own country, less help is available. Unless he can find a friendly person who is willing to loan him some money, he may have to spend the night sleeping near the river. In any case, he says he is glad Gortsby does not doubt the truth of his story.

Gortsby responds by saying that the young man’s story is not entirely credible because he does not have the soap he supposedly purchased. The young man quickly searches in his pockets and, finding nothing, rises to his feet and exclaims that he must have lost the soap. Gortsby notes that it seems almost perverse to lose both one’s hotel and one’s soap on the very same day. The young man immediately walks away.

Gortsby reflects that the claim about the purchase of soap had made the youth’s story sound persuasive. However, it was the very inability to produce the soap that made the youth seem to be a liar. If the youth had just had the intelligence to bring a bar of soap with him, his story might have seemed credible. Gortsby assumes that the youth is a clever panhandler who tricks people into giving him loans he never intends to repay.

Gortsby now rises and begins to walk away, but at that moment he notices a wrapped bar of soap lying on the ground next to the bench. Apparently it had fallen out of the young man’s coat. Almost immediately, Gortsby finds himself rushing through the park, looking for the young man he has just insulted. Eventually he finds the youth, approaches him, and tells him that he has found the young man’s missing bar of soap. Gortsby apologizes for doubting the youth’s story and offers to loan him some money. The young man takes the money, and Gortsby gives him a card with Gortsby’s address on it so the young man can later repay the loan. The youth, apparently touched by his own good luck and by Gortsby’s kindness, runs off.

As Gortsby walks back, he passes the bench where he had been sitting. He notices the old man who had also been sitting there earlier. The old man is now searching for something. When Gortsby asks if the old man has lost anything, the man replies, “Yes, sir, a cake of soap.”

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