Read real teacher answers to our most interesting Dusk questions.

Money Goes to Money

The most interesting feature of "Dusk" is the fact that the young con man poses as a sort of aristocrat rather than a panhandler. Supposedly he has plenty of money but is just in a temporary fix because he can't find the hotel where he left his wallet. Gortsby does not give him the sovereign because he feels sorry for him, but rather because he thinks he might be able to get in good with a young man who belongs to a higher social class and is a newcomer to the city. That is why Gortsby rushes after him to give him the money and the cake of soap and why he apologizes for having doubted him. He wants this phony aristocrat to think he is a "decent chap."

"Unless I can find some decent chap to swallow my story and lend me some money I seem likely to spend the night on the Embankment."

Gortsby is, in effect, buying approval whether or not he succeeds in forming a valuable friendship. He expects to get his sovereign back in the mail, but he is hoping the stranger will include a thank-you note and invite him to have a drink at his hotel. It seems to be human nature to want to oblige people who are above us but to despise those below us. We must give money to people because we seek their approval. Those who look as if they are in the greatest need of a handout are the ones who have the hardest time getting it. George Hurstwood learns this through bitter experience in Theodore Dreiser's great novel Sister Carrie. When Hurstwood is really down and out, starving and freezing, it seems impossible to get a dime from anybody.

Both Saki in "Dusk" and Roald Dahl in "The Umbrella Man" have illustrated this same truth. We often hear people say, "Money goes to money," and "The rich get richer." The con man in Dahl's "The Umbrella Man" also poses as a sort of aristocrat who has plenty of money but is just in a temporary bind. Shakespeare expressed this ironic truth about human nature through his character Jaques in As You Like It.

'Poor deer,' quoth he, 'thou mak'st a testament As worldlings do, giving thy sum of more To that which had too much'

The young con man in "Dusk" is smart but not experienced. He doesn't want to go around asking for money because he knows he could only collect a shilling at a time, at best, and suffer many rejections in the process. Also, he would be sure to attract the attention of a policeman and might get sent to jail for vagrancy, loitering, or panhandling. His whole act and the story that goes with it are intended to bring him a pound in one lump sum. His great and surprising success with Norman Gortsby will encourage him to continue using his story on others. Only now he will be sure to have a cake of soap to produce if another person should ask about it.

The Con Artist's Story

Like Saki's story "The Open Window," his "Dusk" contains a story within a story. The con artist's story has been carefully worked out and rehearsed. The details are complex but the whole hard-luck tale has been condensed to relatively few words.

"Came up this afternoon, meaning to stay at the Patagonian Hotel in Berkshire Square," continued the young man; "when I got there I found it had been pulled down some weeks ago and a cinema theatre run up on the site. The taxi driver recommended me to another hotel some way off and I went there. I just sent a letter to my people, giving them the address, and then I went out to buy some soap — I'd forgotten to pack any and I hate using hotel soap. Then I strolled about a bit, had a drink at a bar and looked at the shops, and when I came to turn my steps back to the hotel I suddenly realised that I didn't remember its name or even what street it was in. There's a nice predicament for a fellow who hasn't any friends or connections in London! Of course I can wire to my people for the address, but they won't have got my letter till to-morrow; meantime I'm without any money, came out with about a shilling on me, which went in buying the soap and getting the drink, and here I am, wandering about with twopence in my pocket and nowhere to go for the night."

Without saying as much in so many words, the stranger conveys the impression that he is a member of the country gentry. He is too fastidious to be able to tolerate the kind of soap furnished in hotels. This grifter suggests that he is accustomed to traveling abroad when he says he doesn't like "hotel soap." Presumably the Patagonian, where he had originally been planning to stay, was a five-star hotel. An important detail of this story is contained in the comment,

There's a nice predicament for a fellow who hasn't any friends or connections in London! 

When Gortsby finds what he believes to be the grifter's lost cake of soap, he hurries after him because he is afraid he might have lost an opportunity to make friends with a gentleman of a superior social class.

In another moment Gortsby was scudding along the dusk-shrouded path in anxious quest for a youthful figure in a light overcoat.

Gortsby himself is nothing but an office worker.

Money troubles did not press on him; had he so wished he could have strolled into the thoroughfares of light and noise, and taken his place among the jostling ranks of those who enjoyed prosperity or struggled for it. 

Gortsby could be described as a member of the upper-lower class, whereas the young grifter presents the picture of a member of the upper-middle class. Some of his vocabulary suggests that he might have been to Eton and Oxford. Gortsby is anxious to catch up with this stranger in order to lend him a sovereign, return the cake of soap, and apologize for doubting him and hurting his feelings. Gortsby still hopes to become further acquainted with the young man who would almost certainly return his borrowed sovereign and invite him to have a drink or even dinner. Since the stranger knows nobody in the whole city of London, Gortsby could be of continuing service to him. They might become friends. Gortsby might even be invited to the country house for shooting and that sort of thing. 

Gortsby is not acting out of compassion but has taken the bait offered by the carefully crafted words

There's a nice predicament for a fellow who hasn't any friends or connections in London! 

Gortsby will be looking for his sovereign in the mail for a long time before he realizes he has been taken in. There can be no doubt that the young country gentleman knows where to send the sovereign or where to call upon Gortsby to thank him in person.

  "Here is my card with my address," continued Gortsby; "any day this week will do for returning the money, and here is the soap — don't lose it again it's been a good friend to you."

Gortsby and the Defeated

Saki opens his story "Dusk" with a description of the poor people who come out after dark because they are ashamed to show themselves by daylight. They are described from the protagonist Norman Gortsby's point of view.

The scene pleased Gortsby and harmonised with his present mood. Dusk, to his mind, was the hour of the defeated. Men and women, who had fought and lost, who hid their fallen fortunes and dead hopes as far as possible from the scrutiny of the curious, came forth in this hour of gloaming, when their shabby clothes and bowed shoulders and unhappy eyes might pass unnoticed, or, at any rate, unrecognised.

Gortsby views these people without sympathy and perhaps with mild contempt. The purpose of this description of all the "defeated" people is to serve as contrast with the young con-man who is posing as a member of the country gentry. At first Gortsby does not believe the stranger's story, but when he finds the bar of soap which seems to prove the other man was telling the truth, Gortsby rushes after him.

Lying on the ground by the side of the bench was a small oval packet, wrapped and sealed with the solicitude of a chemist's counter. It could be nothing else but a cake of soap, and it had evidently fallen out of the youth's overcoat pocket when he flung himself down on the seat. In another moment Gortsby was scudding along the dusk-shrouded path in anxious quest for a youthful figure in a light overcoat. 

Once Gortsby believes that the other man belongs to a higher social class than himself, he is anxious to do him a favor. He is hoping to win a friend who might help him rise in the world. That was the bait the con-man was dangling when he told his story. He said he was a stranger in London in order to suggest that he would be happy to make a friend his own age who knew his way around. The con-man was smart enough to know that people in general are willing to help those above them and not those beneath them. This is because people are motivated by self-interest. Gortsby is lending the stranger a sovereign because he hopes to make a friend of this self-styled member of the landed gentry. Gortsby envisions being invited to a country manor for "shooting" or "riding" and meeting other upper-class types.

This truth about human nature is noted by Jaques in Shakespeare's As You Like It.

"Poor deer,' quoth he, 'thou mak'st a testament
As worldlings do, giving thy sum of more
To that which had too much."                              (II.1)

The contrast between Gortsby's attitude toward "the defeated" at the beginning and his attitude toward the con-man at the end highlights Saki's thesis that people are eager to help those above them in social status and often make fools of themselves when they do so.