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Speaking

In: English and Literature

Submitted By hoanang92
Words 850
Pages 4
Mr Know-All
July 15th, 2011 · No Comments · 1800 Word Level, Short Stories

This story by English author W Somerset Maugham (1874–1965) is about culture, manners, outward appearances, values and – most importantly of all – prejudice. Prejudice exists because it is human nature to stereotype new people we meet based on race or how they look before getting to know them. The moral of the story can be summed up in the English proverb: “You should not judge a book by its cover”.

Resources
Our Story (2702 words) epub pdf read online
Original Story epub pdf read online
1988 TV Drama watch online
The words and expressions in our Simplified English version of the story which are not in our Pre-Intermediate Level 1800 word list are: avenue, belief, cabin, clasp, cocktail, cologne, compliment, cunning, deck, faint, fancy-dress, fierce, flash, flesh, fluency, humor, insult, Levantine, magnify, martini, modest, oriental, pearl, porthole, ready-made, talkative, thump, trunk, victory.

Many English words have more than one meaning. There are several words in the story that are in our Pre-Intermediate level 1800 word list but are used in way that is different to their most common meaning. The words are:

“ball”… a formal dance. (การเต้นรำ)
“familiar”… used to describe someone who is too friendly and not respectful. (ที่สนิทสนม)
“patience”… the British name for a card game played by one person; in America it is known as solitaire. (เล่นไพ่คนเดียว)
“post”… one’s current job or duties in a company or organization (หน้าที่)
“rubbish”… foolish talk; nonsense (ไร้สาระ)
“trade”… the kind of business or occupation you do (อาชีพ)
“wardrobe”… as well as meaning a tall piece of furniture in which clothes are stored, the word ‘wardrobe’ (ตู้เสื้อผ้า) is also a collective noun used to refer to a set of clothes such as ‘summer wardrobe’, ‘winter wardrobe’, ‘travel wardrobe’.
Maugham was a popular English author of plays, novels and short stories, and is said to have been the highest paid writer in the world during the 1930s. He traveled widely, and was one of the best known writers of travel stories in the period between the first and second world wars. This story, which takes place on a ship, is one of those travel stories.

The central theme is stated in very first paragraph. From the start, the narrator expresses his prejudices against the man with whom he must share a cabin on the ship (Mr Kelada). Later, we learn that he dislikes Kelada’s name, his belongings, his appearance, his manners and even his pride in being British.

One of our recent stories, Shooting an Elephant, dealt with prejudice due to differences in class. In this story the prejudice has nothing to do with class as the narrator and Kelada are sharing a room and so must be traveling in the same passenger class. In fact, the narrator’s comments about the number of travel stickers on Kelada’s suitcases, the size of his wardrobe trunk, and his expensive toiletries and monogramed brush suggest that the narrator may be jealous because Kelada appears to be either more wealthy or more sophisticated than he is.

As the story develops, the narrator changes from referring to Kelada by name to using the term “Levantine”. When Britain took over part of the Levant at the end of the First World War, some in the new government used the term “Levantine” as an insult to local people of mixed Arab and European blood. This suggests that the narrator’s prejudice against Mr Kelada is an example of racism, which is supported by the fact that he also refers to Kelada’s “oriental smile” and possible birth in Alexandria or Beirut.

A suggestion I have seen on another website is that Maugham could actually be describing religious prejudice. At the time the story was written, the word Levant was apparently a word used to refer to people who were Jewish. Kelada’s great pride, forceful personality, and description as being “dark-skinned, with a fleshy, hooked nose” all fit with what may have been the then popular stereotype of a successful Jewish businessman.

The climax of the story develops from an argument over pearls, and Kelada’s claim that the newly developed cultured pearl industry would not reduce the value of those produced naturally. In this he is correct as nowadays natural pearls are very rare and very valuable. However, the cultured pearl industry has grown to be much larger than the natural pearl industry, and over 99% of the pearls sold around the world today are of the cultured variety.

“Mr Know-All” is a narrative written in the first person. This allows the reader to see the point of view (including opinions, thoughts, and feelings) only of the narrator, and no other characters. A very important part of reading a story like this is trying to understand the narrator’s position in relation to the story being told as quickly as is possible. In Mr Know-All, the whole meaning will be lost if the reader fails to see the narrator’s prejudice about Mr Kelada’s ethnic origins from the very beginning of the story.

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