Mr. Know All – Basic Understanding
“Mr. Know All” by W. Somerset Maugham is a short story of simple facts, but with a deeper meaning below the surface. In fact, the story is a fantastic story about prejudice, racism and how what appears to be true, at times is just an illusion.
Basic terms and concepts:
Prejudice – unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding a racial, religious, or national group.
Racism – the belief that some people are superior and others are inferior based on racial, religious or national group.
Stereotype – a widely held, but fixed and oversimplified image or idea, of a particular type of person. (examples: Iranians are stingy; Moroccans have bad tempers)
Setting and its significance:
The story takes place after World War I on a boat traveling from San Francisco in the United States to Yokohama in Japan.
The story takes place in “international waters.” This is significant for two reasons:
• By taking place in international waters, and not in a given country, the writer is saying that prejudice is an international problem, and not a problem of any given place.
• The writer is saying that prejudice and racism are human traits and not the traits of any given culture.
• The ship becomes the symbol of the world with people who are prejudiced and even racists. Although the characters are far from their native societies, they still bring with them their racial and cultural prejudices and stereotypes.
Time – The story takes place shortly after World War I. It is mentioned for two reasons:
• It justifies the accidental meeting in the same cabin of the narrator and Mr. Kelada. The passenger traffic on the ocean-liners was heavy, so the narrator had to agree to share a cabin with a person he didn’t know at the beginning, and disliked just because of his