Mr Know All Summary

Analyse the character of Mr. Kelada in Mr Know - All by William Somerset Maugham

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laurniko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Mr. Know-All" is a short story by W. Somerset Maugham. In it, the narrator describes part of an ocean voyage with his cabin mate, Mr. Kelada. The narrator doesn't like Kelada and spends the story detailing the reasons why. Ultimately, Kelada is an intelligent, outgoing man who loves being right and will argue his points to death; the narrator only finds respect for him, though, when Kelada falsely admits to being wrong to help another passenger on the ship save face.

Kelada is seen entirely through the eyes of his cabin mate, the narrator. The narrator admits to disliking him before they met, based on his name and on having to share a cabin with anyone at all. When Kelada tells the narrator he's British, the narrator is surprised. He doesn't believe Kelada was born in Britain.

Kelada is kind and outgoing, offering to help the narrator get a drink as soon as he meets him. Even when faced with the narrator's quiet disdain, he remains kind. He's intelligent, knowledgeable about the world, and patriotic. The narrator reiterates his dislike when Kelada doesn't put "Mr." before his name—even though the narrator admits Kelada is likely doing it to put him at ease.

Throughout the story, any kind of considerate action Kelada takes reminds the narrator how much he dislikes him. There is some indication from the narrator's point-of-view that others on the ship dislike Mr. Kelada too. He says:

It was impossible to snub him. It never occurred to him that he was not wanted. He was certain, that you were as glad to see him as he was to see you. In your own house you might have kicked him downstairs and slammed the door in his face without the suspicion dawning on him that he was not a welcome visitor. He was a good mixer, and in three days knew everyone on board. He ran everything. He managed the sweeps, conducted the auctions, collected money for prizes at the sports, got up quoit and golf matches, organized the concert and arranged the fancy-dress ball. He was everywhere and always. He was certainly the best hated man, in the ship. We called him Mr. Know-All even to his face. He took it as a compliment.

One downside to his character that the narrator points out is that Mr. Kelada does not like to admit being wrong. He's unable to drop an argument and considers the notion that he doesn't know what he's talking about absurd.

One night, however, the discussion drifts to the topic of pearls with the narrator, Kelada, the Ramsay couple, and several others. Mr. Ramsay champions artificial pearls, while Kelada defends natural pearls and ultimately points out the chain Mr. Ramsay's wife is wearing. Kelada calls it beautiful and says, "You can take my word for it, Mrs. Ramsay, that chain you're wearing will never be worth a cent less than it is now."

His words make Mr. Ramsay happy. He asks Kelada to speculate on the value; Kelada says it's worth probably $15,000 minimum. Mr. Ramsay then says that his wife acquired the pearls for only $18. Kelada refuses to believe that it's fake, and the two men each bet $100 on their own side of the argument.

Mrs. Ramsay is reluctant to take off her necklace and says it won't come off. Her husband insists, unclasping it and handing it to Ramsay. Maugham writes:

A smile of triumph spread over his smooth and swarthy face. He handed back the chain. He was about to speak. Suddenly he caught sight of Mrs. Ramsay’s face. It was so white that she looked as though she were about to faint. She was staring at him with wide and terrified eyes. They held a desperate appeal; it was so clear that I wondered why her husband did not see it.

Mr. Kelada stopped with his mouth open. He flushed deeply. You could almost see the effort he was making over himself.

“I was mistaken,” he said. “It’s a very good imitation, but of course as soon as I looked through my glass I saw that it wasn’t real. I think eighteen dollars is just about as much as the damned thing’s worth.”

The narrator recognizes that Kelada has lied, even as his cabin mate pays the $100 to Mr. Ramsay. It's with clear difficulty that Kelada admits to being wrong.

The next morning, Kelada gets an envelope with $100 in it. He rips up the envelope and puts the money in his wallet; when the narrator asks whether the pearls were real, Kelada says, "If I had a pretty little wife I shouldn’t let her spend a year in New York while I stayed at Kobe."

It's the first time the narrator says he did not entirely dislike Kelada.

durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

From the narrator's perspective in Mr Know-All, Mr Kelada is boisterous, nosy and thinks he knows everything. This is why the other passengers call him "Mr Know-All," apparently intending to demean him, but he takes it as a compliment. The fact that he is "everywhere and always" is something of an irritation to the narrator who can't even find his own seat at dinner as Mr Kelada has arranged him a seat at his table.  

He is happy to share his illegal liquor which, during "Prohibition" was an offence. Interestingly, the narrator, whilst consistently stating his dislike of Mr Kelada, takes the drink willingly - a little hypocritically actually- as, for his own reasons, the narrator expects Mr Kelada to treat him with more respect, using "mister" before his name. Mr Kelada has no airs and graces and it is not disrespect, it is just his familiarity - which he has with all the passengers.

Mr Kelada is not shy to share his knowledge but this makes him seem arrogant as he is "the chap who knew" never expecting to be wrong, nor admitting to it until he is faced with a dilemma when exchanging his expertize with the Ramseys. He is an expert on pearls as he is in "the trade" and rightly recognizes Mrs Ramsey's expensive string of pearls around her neck. Mr Ramsey argues that they are fake and the two men wager a bet. Mr Kelada, uncharacteristically, backs down and admits his mistake on seeing Mrs Ramsey's "wide and terrified eyes." Kelada's recognition that she may have a secret from her husband, thereby allowing himself to be ridiculed, is a very honorable gesture and Mrs Ramsey is saved the embarrassment of exposure in front of all these people.

For all his "hearty, jovial, loquacious (very talkative) and argumentative" behavior, being quite a nuisance and source of irritation and liking to always be right, Mr Kelada proves his worth when he does not interfere in the Ramsey's business. He would rather place himself at the centre of this "fine joke" revealing a side to his character that would otherwise have gone unnoticed.