A story with an ironic, but edifying ending, "Mr. Know-All" is set on an ocean liner departing from San Francisco to Yokohama shortly after the war when accommodations are crowded. Here is a description of the characters in the narrative by W. Somerset Maugham:
- The narrator, an unnamed Englishman, who is the stereotypical Brit. He would rather not have anyone else in the room, and he is disdainful of those British citizens who are colonials and not from England. He does not like having to share a cabin with Mr. Kalada.
- Mr. Kalada, the cabin mate of the narrator, becomes known by the other passengers as "Mr. Know-All" since he is involved in all the activities on the ship.
He ran everything. He managed the sweeps, conducted the auctions, collected money for prizes at the sports.... He was everywhere and always....We called him Mr. Know-All, even to his face. He took it as a compliment.
The narrator guesses him to be from Lebanon and he describes Mr. Kalada as having long, black, sleek and curly hair, short and of a sturdy build, clean-shaven and dark skinned, with a fleshy, hooked nose and very large lustrous and liquid eyes.
What the narrator and others do not realize is that Mr. Kalada has an eye for real pearls because he is a pearl dealer. Kalada's acumen leads him to recognize the pearls that Mrs. Ramsey wears to dinner one night as genuine, and he makes a wager on his assessment of these pearls with Mr. Ramsey who thinks that they are not real. But, when Mr. Kalada realizes that the pearls have been given to Mrs. Ramsey by someone other than her husband, he pretends that he has lost the bet. At this point, the narrator thinks better of Mr. Kalada, especially after Kalada willingly forfeits $100.00.
- Mr. Ramsey is in the American Consular Service and has been stationed at Kobe for the last year; he is a heavy-set man. His wife is very attractive. Mrs. Ramsey attracts the attention of the narrator, who finds her possessive of a certain quality that he finds alluring.
- There is a doctor at whose table the narrator and Mr. Kalada sit each evening.
In Mr Know-All there is Max Kelada, after whom the story is named. The narrator of the story has judged Mr Kelada just from his name and does not look forward to sharing a cabin with him on the ship. "I should have looked upon it with less dismay if my fellow passenger`s name had been Smith or Brown." The narrator is not named throughout.
The narrator observes Mr Kelada's flamboyant personality and feels almost crowded by his presence which is felt throughout the ship. It is also as if Mr Kelada owes him some measure of respect when he really means superiority! He is irritated by Mr Kelada's familiarity and would have expected him to "put "mister" before my name."
There is a doctor who features only in so much as they share his table at dinner and then there is Elmer and Mrs Ramsey. Mr Kelada manages to protect Mrs Ramsey's apparent secret from her unsuspecting husband, proving his worth and making the narrator question himself as Mr Kelada acted nobly and suffered embarrassment just to protect the honor of a stranger. "At that moment I did not entirely dislike Mr Kelada."