Mr Know-All by W. Somerset Maugham
In Mr Know-All by W. Somerset Maugham we have the theme of contempt, control, honour, change, ego, appearance and honesty. Taken from his Collected Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed male and from the beginning of the story it becomes clear to the reader that Maugham may be exploring the theme of contempt. The narrator has a strong dislike for Kelada and appears to have firstly formulated his opinion based solely on the fact that he is forced to share a berth with Kelada. Which says a lot for the narrator who unlike Kelada is a very private man. The fact that the narrator also plays patience may be symbolically important as it is possible that Maugham is suggesting that the narrator likes his own space. Something that is made clearer to the reader by the fact that the narrator wishes to choose for himself where he sits in the dining room. It may also be important that Kelada chooses where the narrator sits as this would border on control. Kelada appears to like controlling a situation. Though some critics may suggest that Kelada is only being helpful the fact that he is chief organiser for the many activities on the ship further suggests that Kelada likes control.
Kelada also appears to be thick skinned as it does not bother him that people on the ship call him Mr Know-All. On the contrary Kelada takes it as a compliment. In many ways Kelada is different to the other passengers on the ship. Nothing appears to faze him. However things change when Mr Ramsay suggests that Kelada doesn’t know anything about the business of pearls. Mr Ramsay’s accusation is like a red flag to a bull and when Ramsay issues Kelada with a challenge Kelada readily accepts. It is as though Kelada’s honour is being challenged which would play on the theme of appearance. Kelada does not wish to be seen as a fool which suggests that appearance is important to Kelada. It may also be a case that Kelada for the first time in the story fears losing control of a situation. Prior to being challenged Kelada was in control of not only himself but of others too. Ramsay’s challenge is a direct challenge on Kelada’s dignity.
The fact that Kelada allows Ramsay win the wager says a lot about Kelada. As Kelada looks at the pearls he acknowledges the fear in Mrs Ramsay’s eyes and does the honourable thing and allows Ramsay to win the wager. This says a lot for Kelada as previously many readers might have had a similar view as the narrator when it came to Kelada. If anything Kelada put Mrs Ramsay first as he had previously done with the other passengers on the ship. Kelada might like controlling a situation but he also knows when it is appropriate to hold back. Something that Kelada does when it comes to the wager. Rather than embarrassing Mrs Ramsay Kelada allows himself to be the one that is embarrassed. Even if it means that he might be viewed upon differently by the other passengers on the ship. Kelada does not allow his ego to rule unlike Mr Ramsay. There is a sense that Kelada unlike Mr Ramsay is able to swallow his pride in order that an individual (Mrs Ramsay) is not offended.
What is interesting about the end of the story is not the fact that the narrator changes his opinion about Kelada. Who the narrator now sees as a man of honour. But what is interesting is whether it was Mr or Mrs Ramsay who decided to return the hundred dollars. If anything it is likely that Mr and Mrs Ramsay had an honest conversation when they returned to their berth and Mrs Ramsay advised Mr Ramsay as to the exact cost of the pearl necklace. Something that Mr Ramsay would have been unaware of due to his being away from home so much. If it is a case that Mrs Ramsay told Mr Ramsay the truth than Maugham appears to be placing the spotlight on the Ramsay’s relationship. Where previously the focus for the entire story had been on Kelada at the end of the story it appears as though there may be frictions within the Ramsay marriage. However it is difficult to say for certain as to what Mrs Ramsay might have said as any conversation she may have had with her husband is private. The reader never knows though Kelada might have an idea as to exactly what happened when he tells the narrator ‘if I had a pretty little wife I shouldn’t let her spend a year in New York while I stayed at Kobe.’ This line may be important as it suggests that Kelada does indeed know what happened between Mr and Mrs Ramsay after Kelada lost the wager. Though being an honourable man Kelada never directly explains his words to the narrator who in reality may not need the line explained.