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The story takes place in international waters on an ocean going liner sailing from San Fracisco, U.S.A to Yokohama, Japan on the Pacific ocean. As the war had just ended, it was difficult to get accomodations. Therefore, the narrator had to share a cabin with a total stranger, but he expected him to be one of his own countrymen. Instead, he was deeply shocked to realize it was a chatty Levantine of oriental origin, Mr. Max Kelada, who was not British, but a native of one of the British colonies (he did have a British passport). Although his origin isn't stated precisely, his name suggests Spanish, Portugese, Syrian or even Jewish origin. The narrator mentions Mr. Kelada's "hooked nose", which might imply an antisemitic remark against Jews.
The narrator was prepared to dislike Mr. Kelada even before he saw him. When he first entered the cabin, he saw Mr. Kelada's luggage and toilet things that had already been unpacked. The man's name and the sight of his things aroused a strong repulsion in him since he was prejudiced against all non- Britons, feeling superior to them. The irony of the story lies in the fact that the list of Mr. Kelada's "negative" traits presented in the beginning of the story shows an orderly, neat and tidy gentleman.
When the narrator met Mr. Kelada, his hatred got even stronger. He abhorred the cultural differences between Kelada and himself. He both detested and despised Mr. Kelada's gestures. Therefore, the description of Kelada is negative and biased. The narrator's prejudice is based on several cultural differences between him and Mr. Kelada:
a) A total stranger should address a gentleman with "Mr." and be formal.
b) A gentleman shouldn't be pushy.
c) A gentleman should be modest.
d) A gentleman should keep quiet during meals.
e) A gentleman shouldn't be too chatty and argumentative.
f) A gentleman shouldn't show off and boast about his super knowledge.
g) A gentleman shouldn't be too dogmatic.
Mr. Kelada was a person that seemed to know everything and was involved in everything, not sensing that he was disliked by everybody. He was very chatty and talked as if he had been superior to everybody else. The passengers mocked him and called him Mr. Know - All even to his face.
There was another dogmatic person on the ship - Mr. Ramsay who was an American Consular Serviceman stationed in Kobe, Japan. He was on his way to Kobe after having picked up his pretty little wife, who had stayed on her own in New York for a whole year. She looked very modest. Her clothes were simple although they achieved an effect of quiet distinction. She looked perfect and was adorable.
One evening, the conversation drifted to the subject of pearls. As Mrs. Ramsay was wearing a string of pearls, Mr. Kelada announced that it certainly was a genuine one which had probably cost many thousands of dollars. He was ready to bet a hundred dollars on it. Mr. Ramsay, on the other hand, that his wife had bought it for 18 dollars in a department store. When Mr. Know - All took out a magnifying glass from his pocket, he noticed a desperat appeal in Mrs. Ramsay's eyes. He then realized that Mrs. Ramsay got the pearls from her lover.Since Mr. Kelada didn't . want to destroy Mrs. Ramsay's marriage, he ruined his reputation instead - he told everybody that he was wrong and that the string was an excellent imitation. He gave Mr. Ramsay a hundred dollars.
The story spread all over the ship and everybody mocked Mr. Kelada. Later, while the narrator and Mr. Know - All were in their cabin, an envelope was pushed under the door. It contained a hundred dollar bill from Mrs. Ramsay. It was then that the narrator learned to value the dark - skinned Levantine. He was amazed at Mr. Kelada's generosity.
This story shows that first impressions are often misleading and that appearances are sometimes deceptive. Mr. Kelada who is described as a disgusting person who shows off all the time and knows everything better than others, is in reality a sensitive, brave gentleman who wouldn't hurt others. On the other hand, Mrs. Ramsay, whose modesty and good qualities no one questions, has been unfaithful to her husband.
The moral of the story is that we must not judge a book by its cover. Rather than judging a person by his looks, color or origin we should observe his behaviour and reactions in difficult situations.
(Adapted from HANDBOOK FOR THE ORAL MATRICULATION EXAMINATION by Ilana Plaut and 100 TOPICS FOR YOUR ENGLISH LITERATURE BAGRUT by Ilan Yacobi)
Question: Why is the setting of the story important?
Answer: The story takes place on an ocean liner (=a passenger ship) going from San Fransisco to Yokohoma- Japan right after WWI. These details are important because after wars, especially World wars, there is a lot of passenger traffic. Refugees try to get away from the horrors of war and start a new life elsewhere. There are no passenger planes at the time. This is why the narrator and Mr. Kelada couldn't get a single bedroom on board of the ship despite their wealth. The fact the story takes place on a ship is important because it provides a microcosm of society bringing together people of different classes and nationalities that might not have met otherwise. The journey is long (crossing the Pacific by boat takes about 2 weeks) thus, the people on board are 'stuck' with each other as they have nowhere to run. Long boat rides are a good opportunity to get to know another person well and maybe even develop true friendships. The timing is important because the story deals with prejudice and racism and even anti-Semitism all of which were prevalent across Europe and the United States before WWII (making it easy for the Nazis to gain power in Germany). We see that even Kelada who suffers from the racist and prejudiced approach of his companion is at times racist himself (He's all for the Englishmen sticking together when abroad).