Haunting and bizarre, Guy de Maupassant’s “Who Knows?” is often seen as a classic ghost story. However, behind the facade of the supernatural events, it is a tale of a man finding himself. In “Who Knows?”, the narrator is haunted by his past relationship and is fearful of new friendship, which leads to his seclusion. Later, he retires from solitude and succeeds in finding himself by immersing in other cultures through traveling. In the end, however, the traveling only suppresses his terrible memory of the past and without finding closure, he relapses and suffers from a mental breakdown. This exemplifies that inner peace and happiness can only be achieved by letting go of fear and embracing change. And this change is important for both society and individual; by changing, we adapt and move on and find a new perspective on life, and if we can’t, we will eventually move backwards, just like the narrator did.
We must first examine why the narrator chooses to be alone and how that affects his place in society. The reason why the narrator likes being alone is because he has been hurt in previous relationship. “My desk hove into view, a rare eighteenth-century piece now containing some photographs and all the letters tracing the sad history of my painful love-life” (172). This is the only time that the narrator mentions his past, and we can see that his prominent memory of his past relationship is of his “sad” and “painful love-life.” The narrator may have been betrayed by his lovers and had his heart torn apart, which may be the reason why he becomes a recluse. By keeping “photographs” and “all the letters” of his failed romantic life, we can see that he is still unable to let go of his tortured past and move on. By knowing that he keeps physical reminder of his failed love-life, we have good perspective of the narrator’s past and how it has affected him. Instead of human companions, we know that the narrator sees his furniture as his friends. “As a result of this I have become… very attached to inanimate objects which were as important to me as human beings... Little by little, I filled my house with theses things and lived in their midst as happily as in the arms of a beloved woman...” (170). Although the furniture lacks reasoning and intellect, the narrator can impose his thinking onto his inanimate companions. By having furnitures as companions, the narrator has complete control over his relationships. The furnitures cannot disagree or agree with the narrator, and they cannot hurt the narrator’s feelings or break his heart like human companions. The narrator’s furniture can also be seen as objects of obsession. He collects the furniture over time, as they represent “a beloved woman” to him, but unlike his past lovers, the furniture will never leave him or betray him. We are again reminded of his failed love life and how he is trying to recreate the perfect relationship through his furniture.
Even though the narrator may have been betrayed by his loved ones in the past, he has flawed characteristics. The story begins with the narrator revealing to us that he desires to be by himself. “I have always been something of a loner, a bit dreamy, you might say but well-meaning unambitious with no particular animosity towards my fellow human beings and fairly content with my lot” (169). Here, he states that he is a dreamer; he can fantasize about how his place in society can be different or how his relationship could have turned out better. This reinforces the fact that he cannot let go and continues to create scenarios where he can achieve happiness. His past has play a huge role to how his present turns out, and unless he can find closure, he will continue to “dream” or fantasize. However, the narrator will never actually be happy because he is “unambitious”, meaning that he will never garner the will power to make his dream possible. This is why he keeps furnitures as his companions since it is