Is W. Somerset Maugham a Racist?
Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary defines racism as a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race(1). Racism can also be defined as prejudice or animosity against other races (2). In W. Somerset Maugham’s short story, Mr. Know-All, the narrator displays racism on at least three different occasions throughout the story. The first occasion is when the narrator prejudges his cabin-mate, Mr. Kelada, by his last name. The narrator decided that he would not like Mr. Kelada, but would have liked him more if he had a more ‘English’ last name, such as Smith or Brown. His heart (the narrator’s) sank upon hearing that name because he associated the name with a particular region and subsequently referred to him as a Levantine. Mr. Kelada tells the narrator from the beginning that he is English, however the narrator ignores him and uses the term Levantine to refer to him. A Levantine is someone from the eastern Mediterranean region comprising modern-day Lebanon, Israel, and parts of Syria and Turkey (3). The narrator also imagined that his cabin-mate would stink. This was clearly an example of racism because the narrator held some animosity toward his cabin-mate based upon his name. Secondly, the narrator displays his racism in his physical description of Max Kelada. According to the narrator, Mr. Kelada was short and sturdy, had a hook nose and liquid eyes. Mr. Kelada also had dark skin and long black hair that was sleek and curly. This added to the narrator’s theory that this man was merely a Middle Easterner attempting to pass as an Englishman. The narrator states 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 (p. 14)." In other words, Mr. Kelada was born in a much more tropical region, namely the Middle Eastern...
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