STEREOTYPING AND RACISM IN MAUGHAM’S MR. KNOW ALL By Prof. Balkrishna Dada Waghmare[1]

Abstract

Stereotyping can be defined as a negative image of a person in relation with a group or society. Colonialist’s literature is packed with such negatives views regarding the colonised. Colonised are often associated with negatives attributes while the colonisers are presented with good qualities and who have order and mannerism. The negatives qualities attributed to the colonised are largely based on the racial prejudice. According it, a black cannot be with order and manners. Present paper aims to study the racial prejudice of the author, Somerset Maugham in particular and whites in general against the non-white colonized portrayed in his short story, Mr. Know All. The story is fully packed with stereotypes and abuses to the colonized. It also presents the superiority of the whites as they have order and manners. But the end of the story conveys the real superiority of a non-white, Kelada who is more sensible than the rest.

Keywords: Racism, stereotyping, colonialist’s literature

Colonialist’s literature, a literature written from colonizer’s perspective, is packed with abuses to the colonized. Colonized are often colored in dark and negative coloures. There we see the negatives attributes are given to the colonized while the colonizers are presented with some order. Such stereotyping can be defined as a negative image of a person in relation with a group or society. Edger and Sedgwick define the concept in these words: “a stereotype is an oversimplified and usually value-laden view of the attitudes, behaviour and expectations of a group or individual. Such views, which may be deeply embedded in sexist, racist or otherwise prejudiced cultures, are typically highly resistant to change” (2004: 380-1). In post-colonial theory, ‘stereotype’ refers to the generalized views of the colonizers about the colonized. They are often negative, debasing, humiliating, and mostly based on a racist or prejudiced view of the colonized people. Colonizers stereotypical views about the natives consider colonised as work shirkers, liars, corrupt, weak, inferior, uncivilized, impotent, cruel, lazy, irrational, violent and disorganized. Whereas, “Racism can be defined as: a way of thinking that considers a group’s unchangeable physical characteristics to be linked in a direct, causal way to psychological or intellectual characteristics, and which on this basis distinguishes between ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ racial groups (Ashcroft, 2000: 181).

Maugham’s short story, Mr. Know All is packed with such racial prejudice and stereotyped images.  In the short story, the narrator or author seems to have racial discrimination and prejudices. He prejudices his cabin-mate, because of his name, Mr. Kelada. The beginning of the story states the central theme of the story and also the attitude of the narrator. He makes the first statement as, “I was prepared to dislike Max Kelada even before I knew him” (Maugham, 1998: 195). The very beginning sentence of the short story makes clear that whites have inborn and illogical beliefs for non-whites. The narrator is going from San Francisco to Yokohama and the journey is of fourteen days so he expects someone with the British name like Smith or Brown should be with him. But his fellow passengers name “Kelada” makes clear to him that the person travelling with him is a non-white person and here starts his prejudice for him. He finds the belongings of Mr. Kelada are as unordered as the colonized. He describes them as follow:

When I went on board I found Mr. Kelada’s luggage already below. I did not like the look of it; there were too many labels on the suitcases, and the wardrobe trunk was too big. He had unpacked his toilet things, and I observed that he was a patron of the excellent Monsieur Coty; for I saw on the washing-stand his scent, his hairwash and his brilliantine. Mr. Kelada’s brushes, ebony with his monogram in gold, would have been all the better for a scrub. I did not at all like Mr. Kelada (1998: 195).

Kelada’s name and the sight of his things arouses a strong repulsion in narrator as he is prejudiced against all non- Britons and feels superior to them. The narrator’s prejudice continues to haunt him when he meets Kelada. His appearance again confirms his beliefs and simultaneously narrator’s prejudice of his colored cabin-mate. When Kelada makes clear to him that he is also a British like him, he doubts the Britishness given to him by the passport. The physical description of Kelada and his doubt over his nationality by the narrator again confirms how much he is prejudiced. He describes him in following words:

King George has many strange subjects. Mr. Kelada was short and of a sturdy build, clean-shaven and dark skinned, with a fleshy, hooked nose and very large lustrous and liquid eyes. His long black hair was sleek and curly. He spoke with a fluency in which there was nothing English and his gestures were exuberant. I felt pretty sure that a closer inspection of that British passport would have betrayed the fact that Mr. Kelada was born under a bluer sky than is generally seen in England (1998: 196).

Author then realizes that Kelada is not following manners required when strangers converse with each other. He expects that Kelada should use “Mr.” while addressing other person. He again attributes a trait to Kelada as “chatty” (1998: 196). He realises his patriotism but when he imagines the union jack in his hand, he thinks that “The Union Jack is an impressive piece of drapery, but when it is flourished by a gentleman from Alexandria or Beirut, I cannot but feel that it loses somewhat in dignity” (1998: 196). The company of Kelada becomes unbearable to author. He realises that he cannot avoid him also Kelada is not ready to accept that he is not wanted to the others. So the authors continues dislike him. He thinks that “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” (1998:197).

On the other hand, Kelada soon becomes a well-known on the whole ship. He manages so many things on the ship but people call him mockingly as “Mr. know all” even on his face. Author realises his qualities but continues to give attributes to him as “hearty, jovial, loquacious and argumentative” (1998: 197) and simultaneously “He was certainly the best–hated man in the ship” (1998: 197) to the author. His prejudice is recorded clearly four times in the story. It gradually increases as in the beginning as “I was prepared to dislike Max Kelada even before I knew him” (1998: 195); in the later part twice on same page as “I did not like Mr Kelada”; and in the middle “He was certainly the best–hated man in the ship” (1998: 197). Narrator’s hatred is not limited to Kelada alone. He equally hates his belonging as both the owner and things share similar look. He uses various epithets such as chatty, hearty, jovial, loquacious, argumentative, vehement, voluble, etc.

Narrator finds a perfect foil to Kelada in Mrs. Ramsay. He is struck by her simplicity and modesty. The second description of Kelada also exhibits narrators biased attitude. He describes him as,

He knew everything better than anybody else, and it was an affront to his overweening vanity that you should disagree with him. He would not drop a subject, however unimportant, till he had brought you round to his way of thinking. The possibility that he could be mistaken never occurred to him. He was the chap who knew (1998: 197).

Narrator who negatively describes Kelada describes Mrs. Ramsay in a pleasant and very positive manner as,

Mrs Ramsay was a very pretty little thing, with pleasant manners and a sense of humour. The Consular Service is ill paid, and she was dressed always very simply; but she knew how to wear her clothes. She achieved an effect of quiet distinction. I should not have paid any particular attention to her but that she possessed a quality that may be common enough in women, but nowadays is not obvious in their demeanour. You could not look at her without being struck by her modesty. It shone in her like a flower on a coat (1998: 197).

Narrator’s attitude regarding Kelada and Mrs. Ramsay changes after the incident of the betting that takes place on the strings of pearls of Mrs. Ramsay. One evening, their conversation drifts to the subject of pearls. Mrs. Ramsay happens to be wearing a string of pearls. Mr. Kelada takes this opportunity and announces that it certainly is a genuine one of thousands of dollars. He is even ready to bet a hundred dollars on it. On the other hand, Mr. Ramsay says that his wife has bought it for 18 dollars in a department store. And the bet takes place between them. When Kelada examines the pearls, he notices a desperate appeal in eyes of Mrs. Ramsay. He then realizes the real source of the pearls as her husband cannot afford this costly ornament. Mr. Kelada surprisingly tells everybody that he was wrong to assess the worth of the pearls and as he loses the bet, he gives hundred dollar bill to Mr. Ramsay. Later on, the narrator and Mr. Kelada happen together in their cabin, they realize that an envelope has been pushed under the door and it is addressed to Max Kelada. Narrator hands over it to him. He finds the hundred dollar bill inside it and a letter. He takes the bill and tears the letter. When author asks about the real worth of the pearls, he only says that if I had a pretty little wife I shouldn’t let her spend a year in New York while I stayed at Kobe. Narrator for the first time realizes his hollowness of his prejudice against a colored person. He realizes that the goodness is not associated with the colour. Mrs. Ramsay who is a white woman is unfaithful to her husband, whereas Kelada, a colored person, takes every possible care to save her marriage. He ruins his own fame than ruining the marriage of Mrs. Ramsay. Finally, the narrator is compelled to say “I did not entirely dislike Mr. Kelada” (1998: 199).

Thus, Maugham’s short story, Mr. Know All has the perfect balance of positive and negative qualities associated with race. It makes clear that any particular race is not superior to the other and any particular race cannot be associated with the good or bad qualities. The story that begins with dislike ends with the liking for a colored person.

References

Ashcroft Bill, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin (2000) Post-Colonial Studies The Key Concepts. 2nd Edition, New York: Rutledge.

Edgar, Andrew and Peter Sedgwick (2004) Key Concepts in Cultural Theory. New York: Routledge.

Heil, Douglas (1996) “The Construction of Racism through Narrative and Cinematography in The Letter”, Literature I Film Quarterly 24.1: 17-25.

Mortimer, Armine Kotin (1988) “Second Stories: The Example of’Mr. Know-All” Studiesin Short Fiction 25: 307-14.

Maugham, Somerset (1998) Mr. Know All, Sixty-Five Short Stories, London: Heinemann.

 

Bio-data

Mr. Balkrishna Dada Waghmare has been working as head, Department of English at Krantiagrani G. D. Bapu Lad Mahavidyalya, Kundal, Tal- Palus, Dist- Sangli, Maharashtra for last nine years. He has published one book and numerous articles in reputed books and journals so far. He has participated and presented research papers in more than twenty conferences in India and abroad. He submitted Ph.D. thesis to Shivaji University Kolhapur on African literature and has completed a minor research project funded by University Grants Commission, New Delhi on Post-colonial literature.

 

[1] Head, Department of English, Krantiagrani G. D. Bapu Lad Mahavidyalaya, Kundal, Tal- Palus, Dist- Sangli, Maharashtra. India. PIN- 416309