White Teeth

Zadie Smith demonstrates that the characters share a fate that is to repeat the past and will, in turn, induce consequences. However, not all characters rely on their fate as Archie’s coin flipping emphasizes his reliance on chance. Though many characters consider the consequences that could ensue before they go about their actions, their fate has cemented their decisions and is shown through Smith’s use of historical chapters identified by “Root Canals.” The “root canal” chapters act as a way to enlighten the reader on each character’s past decisions and actions.

In previous sections, the root canals have set the background for Archie, Samad, Mangal Pande, and Hortense. Thus, this section allows the reader to recognize how history is being repeated through Archie, as he is shot in the leg saving Dr. Perret a second time (after the revelation of what really happened to his leg in the war) and Millat, as he reaches for the gun just as his ancestor, Mandal Pande, but is unable to assassinate the intended person.

Archie, who has made no decisions without the tossing of his coin to this point in the book, is forced to make a decision when he sees Millat reaching for the gun to shoot Dr. Perret, “So as the gun sees the light, he is there, he is there with no coin to help him… he is there between Millat Iqbal’s decision and his target, like the moment between thought and speech, like the split-second intervention of memory or regret” (442). Millat’s assassination attempt was a choice but was fated to be unsuccessful by his family’s history. Archie’s normal dependence on chance is destroyed as he is forced to make a choice without the justification of his coin. The inclusion of fate and free will serve as a major theme in the novel and is sealed by the repetition that happens in a family’s generations, as well as in the character’s own lives.

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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.