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.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: British Colonial Diaspora in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth | MFA Creative Writing Portfolio

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