White Teeth (Chapters 7-9)

Although Zadie Smith constructs Samad as a complex character in relation to Archie, his position in multicultural London society showcases anti-feminism and presents him as the “supermale” of the novel.  Despite two previous feminist movements in the Western world, Samad is an example of the backlash that surmounted in the 80’s responding to the increasing empowerment of women.

Leading up to Chapter Ten, Samad is portrayed as super masculine in his ideas and actions, especially in the way he treats women.  In Chapter Seven, Samad demeans Poppy during one of their meetings by suggesting that the two of them are incapable of discussing or acting any thing other than the “physical.”  In this section of the text, Samad makes Poppy feel as if she does not have the authority to speak about “metaphysical” issues, suggesting that those topics are left for men to talk about (151).   Samad quickly reiterates this point again, when they have a small spat, Poppy’s feelings are obviously hurt, and Samad attempts to make it better by focusing the discussion back to fulfilling his sexual desires, admitting to Poppy that he wants to “spend the night” with her (151).  Poppy is a sex object that Samad uses to his advantage, even though he portrays the affair innocently when asked about having sex.  Samad dehumanizes Poppy again when he ends their affair suddenly (because of his sons), without seeming to care about Poppy’s feelings at all.

Samad’s disinterest in his wife’s feelings also illuminates him as a patriarch in the novel.  Rather than feeling guilty or thinking about his wife during his meetings with Poppy, Samad again and again focuses on the negative impacts he is having on his two sons.  Samad is worried only about the other two males in his life, and this seems to be majorly for religion’s sake.

Samad as Muslim in the novel dramatically reinforces patriarchal tendencies to need to hold on to tradition and return to the past.  Although a section of the novel attempts to differentiate between religion and tradition, it is intertwined for Samad.  Samad strongly earns for his roots and wishes for his sons to experience and know the tradition of his culture, so much that he sends Migad back to Bengal despite disaster and bloodshed.   For Samad, the power of tradition and knowing one’s culture is more important the potential harm it might cause to his son.  This is an important point in the construction of Samad as a symbol of patriarchy because it displays the attitudes Samad has toward progression and the dichotomies he creates because of it.  Samad views progression as immorality, and the rigid rituals of his religion reinforce the patriarchal fear of women’s empowerment.  Samad ridicules and even beats Alsana because she is not as traditional as he; he accuses her of swallowing England whole (166).  As the physical fight ensues, it becomes more obvious that Samad is resentful to anyone who does not wish to hold onto the roots of their past, even if those roots are tainted by false memories and nostalgia.

White Teeth

Zadie Smith, White Teeth (New York: Vintage International, 2000)

            In chapters five and six of White Teeth, Smith directs the reader’s attention to character development.  She cleverly weaves the repetitive themes of religion, ethnicity, race and generational cycle with Samad Iqbal’s yesteryears and how his experiences has fostered his identity struggle.

The crux of Samad’s personal conflict revolves around his social position within western society in that Samad’s awareness of self tends to compliment his lofty ideal rather than reality.  Here again, Smith recapitulates the waiter versus refined scholar identity that envelops Samad by revealing the conflict’s origin. It originated in World War II where the younger Samad grappled with his status of lowly private, believing he was deserving of a higher rank based on merit and ancestry. Moreover, Samad’s frustrations regarding his status causes him to blame English discrimination for the class burden he bears.  Ironically, this seemingly has established the pattern that Samad will inevitably blame his hardships on someone or something other than himself.  To this point, Samad, has never considered that he alone has the power to change his circumstances.

Smith also continues the importance of religion in these chapters. The reader begins to recognize that the theme of religion is two-fold.  As both a catalyst for Samad’s conduct and perception as well as the primary facet for inequity, Smith is able to highlight the hidden influences of Christianity within western culture that seeks to marginalize such counterparts as Islam or Jehovah’s Witnesses.  This is emphasized in an interesting but subtle parallel between Samad and Clara.   Both endeavor to break free from the moral restraints and ideological inconsistencies that religion has woven into their cultural fabric.  Although Clara has successfully escaped its trappings, Samad attempts to cling to Islam while he gradually assimilates western civilization since he continually blames the west for corrupting his value system.  Particularly refreshing is Smith’s approach to critiquing religion in that she deals with its complexities and consequences in a light-hearted manner often employing wit to convey the central ideas.  Samad’s continual negotiations for vices and liberties with Allah inject hilarity into the story as it is something that most readers can relate to and inherently do in some shape or form.  Additionally, the erotic self-gratification he frequently engages in supplies plenty of comic relief while simultaneously symbolizing Samad’s acquiescence to the West.

Finally, Smith encapsulates the chapters with her continuing emphasis on the destinies of each generation.  Through Samad, she expresses the idea that an individual’s life path is part of a cycle rather than being linear. This is unquestionably a detrimental factor in Samad’s battle to discover his true self as his great-grandfather’s heroic (or rebellious) deeds both haunt and dictate his actions and worldview.  Furthermore, Samad routinely expresses the idea that his choices and his behavior will most certainly influence his offspring’s fate. Hence, the title, “White Teeth,” means that something lost is always replaced regardless if it is for better or for worse.

the dancers dancing

The Dancers Dancing follows in the tradition of the bildungsroman by following the main character, Orla, as she descends to the Gaeltacht to further her knowledge of the Irish culture. The “coming of age” story of Orla’s journey to the Irish College reflects more her gain in experiences of relationships, secrets, and other thirteen year old girl relations rather than her expanding expertise in the language. Orla’s jealousy of anyone who threatens her friendship with Aisling, her decision to longer be friends with Sandra (which I feel was rubbed onto her by her mother’s comments), the secrets she hides from the people she calls her friends, and focus on herself and her appearance are the natural juvenile thoughts of a girl her age that is trying to fit in.

As Orla focuses on her relations with the other scholars, trying to fit in by hiding secrets out of shame, she dismisses her familial relations. She wishes her Auntie Annie did not exist because she fears the other children will laugh at her. She decides early on that she will have to choose her friends over her family and backs it up on page 161, “This is the Gaeltacht, a land of the child. What matters is the length of your hair and your skirt, the sweetness of your smile and your voice and your Irish, the lightness of your step, your ability to make friends.” Orla’s focus around making friends takes precedence over her desire to perfect the Irish language. She spends much time with Aisling discussing other girls’ bodies, complexion, and hair in English. On page 159, the girls are talking about how they would love to have fair hair. “All in English of course. You couldn’t, really, have this kind of completely enjoyable and intimate conversation in Irish. Irish was for quite other matters, mostly related to school.”

Her consistent English and dismissal of familial relations also occurs as she talks about her Auntie Annie and then goes on to say that she actually looks normal; she looks like Orla. She is disgusted with this thought and realizes that she doesn’t want to look like any member of her family, furthering her attempt to fit in by distancing herself from her family.

We learn in this section Orla’s reasoning for avoiding swimming with the others; her Auntie Annie lives near the shore. When Orla has no choice but to go swimming, she ignores Auntie Annie. Her declination to acknowledge Auntie Annie by anything more than a wave demonstrates her adolescence. Although her fears that the others will laugh prove wrong, she is embarrassed of her aunt and refuses to go and talk to her.

Orla’s decision to use English while having enjoyable conversations and the embarrassment her family places upon her display a sense of desire for liberation and her wish to become her own person.

The Dancers Dancing

First and foremost I feel like this story has started off everywhere. I do not know what is going to happen next. Not in the sense of the author keeping me guessing, but with each chapter being about totally different situations. The only thing that I seem to be of any conflict so far is Sandra not being able to live with Orla and Aisling. I can see future problems coming up in the story with this one situation specifically.

Something else that I’ve noticed is the relationship that Aisling and Orla have with Jacqueline and Pauline. The two pairs seem to keep going back and forth with each other. Like in the beginning when the girls first met, Jacqueline and Pauline were not very nice to Orla and Aisling; but Orla and Aisling seemed to get the girls back with a teacher announced the classes and standings of the girls. Orla and Aisling are apart of a higher class than the other two girls. Even though the girls are treating each other this way, it seems like they secretly want to friends. On page 49 it says, “…pleased to be pulled back into Pauline’s circle…” This is almost like Orla and Aisling do want to have a friendship with Jacqueline and Pauline even though they act snotty towards each other.

This story so far has reminded me of the story The Connor Girls in a way. The girl in The Connor Girls wanted to go to the party so bad, but in the end wanted to be back with her mother. In this story these girls have been sent off to school, but would rather be back with their mothers as well. On page 50 where Pauline broke out into a chant saying, “They say that in the Gaeltacht ; The food is very fine ; You ask for Coca-Cola and ; They give you turpentine ; I don’t want no more of Gaeltacht life! ; Gee ma, I wanna go! ; Where do you wanna go? ; Gee ma I wanna go ; Home!” Basically the girls want to be home.

Written on the Body Mini-thesis_Chelsea Dermody

I am not sure why this failed to dawn on me until this section of the reading, but I realized as I was reading today how truly feminist this novel is. Winterson seems to making an attempt to assert feminism throughout this novel.

One of the most prominent examples of this feminist approach is the characteristic of the novel we have been fighting with ourselves over from the beginning—Winterson’s decision to leave the narrator ungendered and unnamed. What better way to assert equality between the sexes than to write a novel whose main character, the story teller, has an unidentified gender! Way to blur the lines, Winterson!

Throughout the novel the narrator and Louise have this fluctuating balance of power. This hits on the post Carissa made on the power relationship in the first section. Louise certainly has power over the narrator, as Carissa points out. The narrator can think of no one but Louise and frequently transposes Louise in the relationships she has with other women. For example, on page 146, the narrator begins relaying a scene in which she seems to be describing Louise moving about the kitchen in the morning. She says, “The aromatic steam warmed our faces and clouded my glasses. She drew a heart on the lens. ‘So that you won’t see anybody but me,’ she said.” This description fits Louise, but it is placed right in the middle of a section where Louise is supposedly in Switzerland and the narrator has another woman, Gail, as company.

The narrator obsesses over Louise. She dreams of her in Switzerland; she relays erotic scenes (supposedly past, or maybe they are fantasies?) between her and Louise to the reader; she calls Louise’s ex-husband, Elgin, in an attempt to check up on Louise; she abandons her life and takes up residence in a dirty, old, one room cottage, quits using her college degree to translate and begins working at a bar. On page 174 the narrator says, “My equilibrium, such as it was, depended on her [Louise’s] happiness.” Louise lacks no control over the narrator.

However, the narrator is not without control over Louise either. Louise is immediately taken by the narrator, before the narrator even knows Louise has ever seen her. Louise cheats on her husband with the narrator—an act we assume she has never committed before. Louise may even engage in a homosexual relationship (if the narrator is a woman)—another act we assume Louise has never engaged in before. Louise leaves her husband. She gives up the life she knew. And isn’t it all for the narrator, or at least a result of her love for the narrator?

The phenomenon of shifting powers between the narrator and Louise, and specifically the continuous attainment and loss of power experienced by the ungendered narrator, is a great representation of feminism. Winterson seems to claim that gender does not determine power or authority. Both genders are equal. Therefore, regardless of whether the narrator is a woman or a man, she will hold power and lose power, while being unaffected by her sex. Isn’t this a powerful message?

I feel like the feminism in this novel should have occurred to me before the final section of book, but it was while reading a few strong comments in this final section that I realized the feminist message Winterson seems to be sending. Specifically, on page 172 after the narrator has visited the home of Louise’s mother and grandmother, the narrator makes a sarcastic comment on what she has just learned. She has discovered that Louise has left Elgin, even after the narrator abandoned Louise. In response to this the narrator tells us, “Instead Louise had left him. The ultimate act of selfishness; a woman who puts herself first.” This is where the feminism slapped me across the face. I read this comment incredibly sarcastically. The narrator seems to be poking fun at the idea that the ultimate act of selfishness comes when a woman puts herself fist. Winterson is careful to mention “woman” in this sentence. This comment references the traditional expectations of women—that they are to put others before themselves (as caretakers, etc.), and makes fun of these expectations.

The realization that Winterson may have been doing a little more with the ungendered narrator than appealing to our inner risqué-ness has made me appreciate this novel even more.