Discussion Topic

The description and impression of the young man in "Dusk."


The young man in "Dusk" is described as a nervous and disheveled figure who appears to be down on his luck. He creates an impression of desperation and vulnerability, which he uses to elicit sympathy and assistance from others, reflecting the theme of deception in the story.

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How is the young man described in "Dusk"?

It should be noted that the young man presents a sharp contrast to the other people Gortsby has been observing. He muses:

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, unrecognized.

The young stranger is described as "fairly well dressed" and not defeated-looking but angry and volatile. From his own story, the reader judges him as a affluent and accustomed to comfort, pleasure, and foreign travel. The fact that he has to have a special kind of soap is a good sign that he has refined tastes. The author several times refers to this as a "cake" of soap and not a "bar." For example:

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.

The young man gives other details that characterize him as a member of a highly respectable social class. For example:

"In a foreign city I wouldn't mind so much," he said; "one could go to one's Consul and get the requisite help from him."

What is so unusual about this stranger's approach is that he does not pretend to be destitute and needy. He is not presenting himself as a beggar but as a person who is only temporarily in distress and more than capable and willing to pay the money back. This is an original scam. He makes it seem as if it would cost Gortsby nothing to help him out because he is a gentleman and would only be accepting a temporary loan which he would be able to pay back in just one or two days, as soon as he could locate the hotel where he has left his luggage and his money.

The young man has a very complicated story to tell, and the fact that he is able to express himself so clearly and fluently suggests that he has had a good education. The general picture he gives of himself is that of a refined, educated, honorable gentleman from a old rural English family who is well connected and generally worth knowing. Gortsby may believe that in doing this stranger a favor he might be making a valuable acquaintance--and that it wouldn't cost him anything because he would get his money back in the mail within a few days.

"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."

It seems entirely possible that the young man was telling the truth and that he will repay the loan. But then Gortsby learns that the cake of soap he found belonged to the elderly gentleman who had been sitting beside him on the park bench before the young man took his place. Previously Gortsby had been thinking:

"If he had had the brilliant foresight 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. In his particular line genius certainly consists of an infinite capacity for taking precautions."

Now Gortsby--and the reader--must be wondering if this elderly gentleman is going to tell the same story about having lost his hotel when he went out to buy a cake of soap. Only the elderly gentleman, just because he is elderly and more experienced, has provided himself with a cake of soap and actually displays it without being asked.

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What impression do you form about the young man in the story "Dusk"?

My impression of the young man in Saki's "Dusk" is that as a con artist he is a novice. Gortsby may be his very first prospective victim. This apprentice con artist has invented a very good story. He is a stranger in London. He had to go to a strange hotel because he found that the one he expected to stay at had been torn down. He went out to buy a cake of soap and left most of his money in his room. Then he got turned around--which is easy to do in London--and couldn't find the hotel where he was registered. He couldn't remember the name of the establishment. However, he had written to his family in the country alerting them to the fact that he was staying at a different address, and he could get the name and address of his hotel by wiring the next day. It seems as if he is trying the story out on Gortsby for perhaps the first time, just to see if it would be possible to make a living without working. He does not appear to have any confederates or instructors. A more experienced con man, or grifter, or trickster, or diddler, would have advised him to buy a cake of soap in order to be prepared to show it if asked.

One reason I think of the young man as being a novice is that he becomes angry when Gortsby fails to fall for his scam. An experienced con artist would have learned that any scam only works with a certain percentage of the prospects, or "marks." The young man in Saki's story is also unprepared for Gortsby chasing after him. He is not as self-confident as he tries to appear. What if he ran into a cop? No doubt this young man will become smoother if he keeps at it. On the other hand, he might decide to get a steady job if he received a higher percentages of rejections, or even insults, than he had anticipated. 

Stories about grifters are popular. Recent motion pictures about these shady people include House of Games (1987), The Grifters (1990), and Glengarry Glen Ross (1992). In all of these excellent films the grifters or con artists have mentors or partners. The young grifter's worst mistake in Saki's "Dusk" was going it alone, without experience and without someone to advise him how to expect the unexpected. He seems as much a solitary individual as Gortsby himself. 

The film The Grifters was based on a novel by Jim Thompson. You can read a lot about the talented Jim Thompson and his works in eNotes study guides. See reference link below.

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What impression do you form about the young man in the story "Dusk"?

In the story "Dusk," the young man is a scam artist. He comes out at dusk because he lives a defeated life. This is not the first time this young man has tried to scam someone. The young man is good at what he does. He tells stories that are believable. He uses his stories to cause people to feel sorry for him. 

Gortsby, who is a good judge of character, gets scammed by the young man. At first, Gortsby did not believe his story. He tells the young man that his story would have been believable if he had had a bar of soap. 

Ironically, Gortsby finds a bar of soap under the park bench. He chases after the young man and gives him his bar of soap. Gortsby also lends him some money. Again, the young man has scammed another poor soul.

The young man most likely has scammed many people before. He probably makes his living off of other people. He is a con artist in every sense of the word. He lives off other people. Gortsby was smart enough to recognize it until he found the bar of soap. A bar of soap changed Gortsby's mind. Gortsby loaned money to the young man, money he will never see again.

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