By: Shaaban Fundi
The book White Teeth by Zadie Smith is about a mixed-race couple and an immigrant family life in London. Many of the controversy in the book deal with issues of identity and social class in a post racial society. Smith shows many provocative themes related to science, technology, history and religion. The book starts with Archibald Jones fighting alongside a Bengali Muslim, Samad Iqbal in the English army during WWII, and the two developing an unlikely bond. The bond intensified when Samad relocated to Archie’s native London. Smith tries to recapture their friendship through marriage, parenthood and the shared disappointments of poverty and dreams deferred.
Later in the novel Archie weds a Jamaican bride Clara. In the midst of their marriage, along came their “very interesting” daughter Irie. Achie’s friend Samad also get married, around the same time—to a wife named Alsana. Alsana and Samad were blessed with twin sons, Millat and Magid. After struggling to raise the two sons together, the parents decided to send Magid back to their homeland Bangladesh simply because living in a new country has pressures: 1) new country ways, and 2) the old religious traditions of his homeland was in disagreement with the new country ways. But, they kept Millat in England. However, Millat fell into delinquency and then adopted the ways of the new country which caused severe conflicts in the household.
Since the move, Magid becomes interested in genetic engineering, a science that Samad and Alsana rejected. Within the novel, Smith contrasts Samad’s faith in providence with Magid’s desire to seize control of the future. She involves all of her characters in a debate concerning past, present, determinism, and accidental life. The tooth, half root, half protrusion makes a perfect climax in this novel. She makes a remarkable examination of the immigrant’s experience in a postcolonial world. Dealing with the woes of adaption of a new land, and the principles of what was instilled within them in their home countries and culture.
The first theme I encountered was the marriage of Archie Jones to a black immigrant from Jamaica. This is significant because I considered her to be an immigrant just like Samad, Millat and their kids within the story. This opened up a fascinating tale. Dealing with something very new, verses something that has been instilled within them. The same holds true for their kids–Ire, Magid and Millat were all born in England. However, they are all not acknowledged in their own country because of their skin tone.
Another significant theme I saw in the book was how Magid lost his sense of “Heritage.” He was sent back to Bangladesh to grow up with the culture of his parents’ native land. He wound up more English than the English themselves. His twin brother Millat who stayed in England, was caught up in an ultra-Moslem activist group (with the acronym “KEVIN”). This showed how “brain-washed” he had gotten, even though his parents were just trying to create the best life for their son.
The last significant theme that I thought made the book wonderful was the parallels between the cross-pollination of plants and the random mixing of human genes and cultures. Despite the evident prejudice within London depicted in the book regarding heritage, culture, and ethnic background– the diversity leads to a healthy and strong society in the end. Take home–we all have white teeth despite the color tones on our skins.