The Man Who Knew Too Much
by Alexander Baron
Reassessment of Private Quelch and Question Answers for the lesson ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’
Private Quelch, the army recruit around whom the story ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ has been written, is a much maligned person. This story forms part of the English text book in countless schools across the world. Sadly, students and teachers often treat this profoundly learned person of astounding scholarship and boundless energy with mockery, calling him boastful, vainglorious, arrogant, pretentious etc.
I feel Private Quelch is unfairly treated by the community of teachers and students. This man of learning should be idolized and not vilified. His fate, unfortunately, had put him in an army camp rather than in a academic hub.
Private Quelch was a man of extraordinary academic talent. Through voracious and ‘intelligent learning’, he had amassed a huge storehouse of facts and information about a wide array of subjects starting from ammunition to aircraft to nutrition.
No doubt, he upset his instructors, particularly Corporate Turnbull through his impetuous attempts to butt in during lectures. However, his intention was to add value to the lecture’s content, and not boast about his impressive learning. Sadly for him, his instructors did not take kindly to his interventions.
When, during a lecture by Corporal Turnbull on grenades, Quelch stood up to add that there were 44 segments in the grenades shell, the former was very peeved. Quelch had the temerity to suggest that Turnbull should have given his presentation in a different way. This annoyed Quelch so much that he asked Quelch to complete the lecture. Private Quelch did as ordered. It is a safe guess to assume that he did a better job than Corporal Turnbull. The enraged Turnbull packed off Quelch to kitchen duty, perceived as a humiliation by his colleagues.
In an earlier occasion, Quelch had corrected his sergeant by giving the precise speed of a bullet. This incident had left the sergeant infuriated. The sergeant had clobbered him with a barrage of questions.
Apart from these two incidents Private Quelch did nothing wrong. He followed army discipline meticulously. His salutes at the pay table were smart and respectful.
Private Quelch made light of the arduous 30-mile run, jokingly suggesting to his mates to sing a song at the finishing point. No doubt, he was a man of great stamina and the correct attitude valued in the army.
In identifying aircrafts flying overhead, he was a wizard who could name a plane from its sound.
As a man of positive attitude and high ambitions, he was focused on his career growth. First he wanted to get his stripes and then his commission. Army loves such individuals.
He was a man of tidy habits who maintained his hut well.
When deputed to the kitchen, he did not demur a bit. Instead, he utilized his knowledge of nutrition to advise the cooks not to peel the potatoes to conserve their vitamins.
His friends mocked and ridiculed him for his exuberance. He appeared somewhat eccentric and bizarre at times, but Quelch rarely took offence at the jibes his comrades threw at him.
In Private Quelch’s armoury, there was his incredible scholarship, razor-sharp intelligence and rare equanimity. Most potent of his trait was his positive attitude and the ability to stay focused on his goal.
Judged fairly, the sergeant and Corporal Turnbull appear hot-headed, mean and vindictive. A good officer is trained to applaud extraordinary qualities of his subordinate. The sergeant and the Corporal would have gone up in the estimation of the recruits if they had sportingly praised Private Quelch for his knowledge and interest.
Question and Answers
1. What made Private Quelch stand out from amongst his peers in the army?
Answer – Private Quelch was blessed with a superhuman memory, and great attention to details. His memory was astounding, and his humility was so praiseworthy. He was dutiful, and never took any work assigned to him to be demeaning.
2. How does his nick name show that he does not fit into the army ethos?
Answer – His profound learning won him the nick name ‘The Professor’. Professors are found in universities and colleges. The rough and tumble of the battle ground is so far away from the tranquil and civil atmosphere of a university. So, Quelch didn’t quite fit the military roles.
3. How is his character trait suggested by his physical appearance?
Answer – Quelch appeared thoughtful always. Unlike army personnel, he had a stooping frame, and looked like a scholar with an unassuming exterior. His horn-rimmed glasses added to his appearance of an exceptionally scholarly person.
4. We are told that the quiet Private Quelch worked hard to display his knowledge to get a promotion; but his enthusiasm and his unconquerable spirit seems to tell a different story. What is it?
Answer – Quelch was, no doubt, a very assertive person who impulsively corrected a mistake when on duty or attending a class. His doggedness to correct errors was misunderstood by his seniors to be a sign of defiance. No doubt, he loved to be promoted, but this passion didn’t drive him in his work. Instead, a quest for perfection and deep intellectual honesty were the hallmarks of his character. But his unwillingness to compromise on facts didn’t quite endear him to his bosses. Thus, he became a victim of his own quest for perfection.
5. What does private Quelch attribute his awesome knowledge to? What was his pet expression or statement?
Answer – He was a voracious reader and picked up facts from the books he read. He was careful about the selection of books. With remarkable dexterity, he gleaned facts and knowledge from the books he read.
6. What is the turning point in this story?
Answer – The turning point of the story comes when the corporal asks Pvt. Quelch to take over the traing class. He had expected Quelch to falter and make a fool of himself, but the latter did the job with aplomb.
7. How is the corporal’s hardness suggested? How is this a function of army life?
Answer – When a senior gets miffed with the conduct of his soldiers, he asks them to ‘fall in’, and then announces his punishment.
8. How did the corporal get his revenge?
Answer – Private Quelch was assigned kitchen duty considered to be unglamorous and somewhat humiliating in army. The corporal deputed Quelch to kitchen duty.
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