Mr Know All Summary by William Somerset Maugham


This is a story about familiarity and foreignness. Often when people meet or see others who are not like them, they end up creating preconceived notions and judgments about them. Their outward appearances can be deceptively incorrect.

These opinions are biased and unfair and can lead to an air of suspicion and mistrust. The story also highlights the value of honesty, loyalty, compassion and understanding.

Narrator’s Biases Against Asians

The characters in the story are going to Japan on a ship after the end of WWII. The narrator is British and walks into a cabin occupied by an Asian named as Mr Kelada. The narrator is at the outset unimpressed by Kelada and his eastern mannerisms.

He is biased and slightly hateful in his thoughts. However, Kelada is unaffected by such hate and contempt. On the contrary, he is outspoken and quick to chat with anyone on any topic. He is very knowledgeable, to the point of arrogant. He is named ‘Mr Know All’ by the shipmates due to this trait.

An American Couple

The two are joined by a lovely American couple the Ramsays. Mr Ramsay is American while his wife is an Asian. They seem to be in love. Mrs Humphrey is quiet and beautiful and Mr Ramsay is very appreciative of her.

One day, the shipmates notice the magnificent pearl necklace worn by Mrs Humphrey. It is quite striking and Kelada claims it to be worth a small fortune. However, Mr Ramsay protests and claims it to be a cheap knockoff. They enter a wager of 100 dollars to decide who is correct.

When observed under a magnifying glass it becomes clear to Kelada that it is real and expensive however, he also notices Mrs Ramsay trepidation and anxiety. Her body language signals disloyalty and guilt.

Kelada realizes that it must be a present from an affair. He realizes that it could split the couple and decides to take a hit to his reputation. He calls it to be a fake and offers the wager to Mr Ramsay. This creates a stir on the ship and everyone mocks at Kelada for losing the bet and not knowing enough about pearls.

Token of Appreciation

One day, while the narrator and Kelada are resting in their cabin, they receive an envelope with a 100 dollar bill. It is from Mrs Ramsay. It is a token of appreciation and acknowledgement of his merciful act.

The narrator is shocked and realizes how mistaken he was to presume things about Kelada and his culture. He learns an important lesson in humility and never judging people on the basis of their appearances or distinctions. 

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