Dusk by Saki (H.H. Munro)
In Dusk by Saki we have the theme of appearance, perception, guilt, deception and self-importance. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Saki may be exploring the theme of deception. Gortsby appears to be an individual who judges others. Something that is noticeable when Gortsby is sitting on the bench. He does not feel as though he is able to make a connection with anybody who is passing by and the one person he does talk to in the story ends up deceiving him. He makes a brief connection with the young man and it ends up costing him a sovereign. What is interesting about Gortsby’s perception of those around him is that Saki never gives the reader any insight into their character. Just as Gortsby does not know the people or anything about them. Neither does the reader. Which may be the point that Saki is attempting to make. Gortsby is judging others based on their appearance. He knows absolutely nothing about them. It is also ironic that Gortsby considers Dusk to be the time of defeat as at the end of the story Gortsby himself is left to feel defeated after the young man’s deception.
It is also interesting that Gortsby feels as though he has the ability to read others yet he does not follow his initial instinct when it comes to the young man. There is also a sense that Saki may be suggesting that Gortsby has learnt a lesson from his experience with the young man. That being that appearances can be misleading. What a person perceives an individual to be may not necessarily be the case. Just as Gortsby considers those in the street to be defeated by life. In reality he is the one who has been defeated or cheated by the young man. Though it is difficult for the reader to side with Gortsby due to his constant judging of others who might not be as fortunate as him. There is no doubting that Gortsby has been hoodwinked by the young man. Who may in reality make his living preying on the goodwill of others and be very successful at it too.
It is also possible that Saki by having Gortsby judge everyone is suggesting that Gortsby might also need to have a look at himself. He has fallen for the young man’s story. Which may suggest that just as Gortsby’s opinion of the young man was wrong likewise so too could his opinion of others also be wrong. Rather than judging others by their appearance Gortsby would serve his time better if he looked closer at himself. There is also a sense that Gortsby considers himself to be above others. Yet at the same time Gortsby does not know anybody he sees or talks to in the story. He is formulating an opinion of others based on perception and assumption. With neither being based on fact. In reality Gortsby is doing nothing but guessing when he thinks about the other people he sees and talks to in the story. Which again might suggest to some readers that people cannot be judged by their appearance. It may also be a case that Gortsby drops his guard when he discovers the cake of soap and feels guilty about his engagement with the young man. This might explain as to why Gortsby followed after the young man.
What is also interesting about the story is that Saki never lets the reader know as to how Gortsby feels about having been deceived by the young man. The story ends abruptly when the reader (and Gortsby) discover that the cake of soap belonged to the old man. It is possible that Gortsby feels foolish that he did not follow his instinct and his first impressions of the young man. However there is a soft landing for Gortsby. That being that he couldn’t have imagined that the cake of soap belonged to anybody else apart from the young man. It is exceptionally coincidental that the old man bought the soap and the young man said he also bought a cake of soap. Not only is the reader left surprised at the end of the story but there is a sense that Gortsby too has been surprised by what has happened. In reality Gortsby did everything he could to validate the young man and his story and was correct in his initial appraisal of the young man. If anything the best that Gortsby can do is to put the experience down to bad luck or a lesson learnt. It might have cost him a sovereign but it could have cost him a lot more.
What did Gortsby think the young man’s profession was? Why?