Critical Review of "Mr.Know All"
by Gulnaz Fatima
Last time when I met my supervisor, Prof. Iffat Ara, to discuss my research work, she gave me a book entitled “Selected Short Stories” and advised me to read this book and find some similar stories for my research. I am working on Ruskin Bond, the famous short- story writer. This book “Selected Short Stories” contains fourteen short-stories written by different writers. The first story of this book is written by Edgar Allen Poe, who is considered as one of the “early American practitioners” of this genre of writing. Poe perfected the art of short-story telling. Edgar Allen Poe shot to fame with the publication of his story “An MS Found in a Bottle” in 1933. He holds his readers’ attention with the skill of his narration and the atmosphere that he creates. His influence on the modern short-story writers cannot be underestimated. This book includes Poe’s famous story Purloined letter, Thomas Hardy’s The Three Strangers, Oscar Wild’s The Selfish Giant, O Henry’s The Dream, H.G. Well’s The Stolen Bacillus. The collection also contains writings of some of the famous Indian authors like Rabindra Nath Tagore, Raja Rao, Kamla Markandya, and R.K. Narayan. Ruffling through the book, one of the stories entitled “Mr. Know All” appealed to me very much. I like the stories written by Somerset Maugham. I recently read one of his novels Of Human Bondage, which is a Bildungsroman and psychological study of the protagonist’s mind. But this short-story, “Mr. Know All” is quite different.
“Mr. Know All” is a story written by Somerset Maugham
immediately after the First World War. He widely traveled across the globe particularly in the Far East. He worked in British secret service so most of his work is based on people he met and experiences which he accumulated during these travels. Due to the very nature of his job in the secret service, he became habitual to observing the nature and habits of people.
Mr. Know All is also a story of such experience which revolves around a person named Mr. Kelda whom he meets during his travel to “Yakohama” by ship. In the story the author dislikes Mr. Kelda because he is Black and the most disturbing and interfering element on board. Mr. Kelda is given the title Mr. Know All because of his talkative nature. The narrator does not like Mr. Kelda but in the end he comes to know the reality and is impressed by his decency and changes his views about Blacks, in general.
The story teller shows how we often tend to be judgmental towards others yet later when we take a closer look, we may find that they are truly greater in character than we are. In the first half of the story the narrator’s racist views are manifested in his dislike for Mr. Kelda and his search for a name with Smith or Brown as his fellow passenger as he scans the passenger list – an unabashed show of British superiority, their trade mark suspicion towards people of foreign origin, their condemnation of Blacks as savage, uncivilized, uncouth and their colonial mindset. Likewise Mr. Kelda is treated as a social outcast on board. The writer epitomizes the “White” mindset, as he is predisposed to dislike Mr. Kelda without knowing him well. This story also deals with prejudice and hasty judgment. However, the progress of the story sees a transformation in the narrator when he criticizes racial prejudices and snobbish attitude of the British as his own perception changes with the turn of events. The ship here, where the narrator meets Mr. Kelda, symbolizes a slice of society where different types of people live for an extended period of time and get a chance to come close to each other, which compels the writer to change his opinion in the long run, about Mr. Kelda and acknowledge the virtuosity of a Black man. Reference:
Maugham,Somerset: "Mr.Know All" Selected Short Stories
Ed. Thakur, Damodar. Calcutta: The Macmillan Company of Calcutta.