“White Teeth” is a novel based on three, very different North London families, all of which are first, second or third generation immigrants. Zadie Smith provides us with a society portraying the clashing of cultures combined with a blending of race. She manages to use these ingredients to surround the story with witty and intelligent references of satire centred around the subject of race within a twentieth century London and the impact it has upon society in terms of relationships and contrasts between characters.
Whereby satire is defined as contemporary issues or foolishness that is criticized by means of ridicule. One of the main and most obvious relationships within the novel is that of Samad and Archie. They are the central figures and their relationship is the basis for the combination of the two families. Samad, who is “a Bengali Muslim” and works as a waiter in a London restaurant, and Archie, who is a middle to lower class British man, that folds paper for a living.
The situation in which their friendship originates is during their time serving in the Second World War. Zadie Smith uses this unlikely situation, in which they are both members of a five-man regiment in the claustrophobic surroundings of a tank, to create humour as we discover that the early stages of their relationship were not as content as the later stages. This is mocks by Samad highlighting his frustration towards Archie, as he finds that “there is only so much of that eyeballing that a man can countenance” and asks him if he is “in a passion over my arse?
This fascination could be interpreted as Archie’s curiosity towards Samad maybe due to his “poncey-radio-operator-ways” or just his lack of multicultural knowledge resulting in his fixation on Samad. The contrasts between Archie and Samad’s characters are evident in their distinct views of death. Zadie Smith mocks Archie’s straightforward, yet humorous evaluation on the subject in which he states, “when you’re dead, you’re dead,” as this is the kind of superficial answer we would expect from Archie.
Whereas, Samad believes that, “we are creatures of consequence… our children will be born of our actions. Our accidents will become their destinies. ” Here, some people might say that Zadie Smith is emphasising just how much our cultures and religions determine the way we think about life. However, it can be construed that Zadie Smith is also satirizing the similarities between the two characters. This connection can be perceived within the marriages of Samad and Archie as they have both been stuck in unwanted marriages.
In Archie’s case he was just too lazy to get out of it, although had a lucky escape when his first wife left him, it ironically lead to him wanting to commit suicide. Zadie Smith satirizes Archie’s marriage by describing it as being like, “buying a pair of shoes taking them home and finding they don’t fit” and only put up with them “for the sake of appearances. ” Whereas in Samad’s case he feels obliged to pursue the fai??ade of his marriage of convenience that was planed before his wife was even, in Archie’s words, “bloody born”, because of his culture in which he has to live with the consequences.
He suffers most from this when his wife, Alsana, punishes him for sending their child to Bangladesh by only answering his questions with “perhaps” or “maybe. ” Resulting in a rather comical situation of them both being unable to have any decent form of conversation with each other. Zadie Smith satirizes the misunderstanding people have of each other’s cultures when the other members of his regiment refer to Samad as, “Sultan. ”
To emphasise the confusion of his fellow troops, Samad informs them that, “the word ‘Sultan’ refers to certain men of the Arab lands-many hundreds of miles west of Bengal. On the other hand, Zadie Smith portrays the mixing of cultures, which is represented in the Irish pub by the name of “O’Connell’s” and satirizes its effects. The pub, which Archie and Samad are regulars, has been turned into a ‘Muslim-immigrant hangout’ whereby no pork is served, no women are allowed, and even the English workers have adopted names such as, “Abdul-Jimmy. ” This extreme behaviour mocks and highlights the successful multicultural relationships that have been formed throughout the novel.
Equally, this fusion of cultures is evident within society and provides us with satire throughout the novel. This is shown by the example of two best friends, “Sita and Sharon, constantly mistaken for each other because Sita is white (her mother liked the name) and Sharon is Pakistani (her mother thought it best-less trouble). ” This relationship can be interpreted as the immigrant’s preference to be assimilated within society for a quite life, however, some people might say that their fears of dilution and disappearance of their own religions outweigh their need to be assimilated.
It also represents the Englishman’s need for variety. Richard Seltzer, confirms this view by arguing that, “There is no one more English than the Indian and no one more Indian than the English. ” The second generation immigrants, Irie, who is the daughter of Archie and Clara, and Millat and Magid, who are the twins of Samad and Alsana have all known each other for a long time due to the friendship between their fathers. Zadie Smith satirizes a similarity within these three characters, which is that they are all confused about their identity.
Some people might say that they are being taught two sets of values, one set from their families and the other from the British society and culture. Furthermore, leading them to question themselves just how much of their roots they should accept and whether they should accept the values of their country of birth. Magid, who is the intellectual and politer twin, is mistakenly sent to Bangladesh at the age of nine in order to become a “proper” Muslim.
Zadie Smith uses satire in the form of irony to show the failure of this plan when Magid comes back, More English than the English,” “ironing his underpants” and eating bacon. This satirizes Magid’s attempt at finding his identity even though he has not been faced with the contrast of cultures throughout his teenage years while living in Bangladesh, unlike Millat. The relationship between these brothers slowly fades away as their distinguished individual personalities and beliefs become apparent when Millat quotes that in his eyes, “I have no brother. ” I feel that Zadie Smith ironically satirizes the character of Magid by using him as a parody of a stereotypical upper class Englishman.
This is illustrated within his language as he speaks the Queens English. It is also evident with his appearance, as his clothes were “entirely white” and his hair was, “floppy in the English public school style and brushed forward. ” This unrecognisable behaviour puts Samad in denial and refers to Magid as being, “some clone, this is not an Iqbal. ” In addition, Zadie Smith uses the descriptive simile to depict Clara and Irie’s hostility towards meeting Magid as they refer to it as being, “like switching on your favourite T. V soap only to find a beloved character slyly replaced by another actor with a similar haircut. This satirizes the inexistent relationship between Irie and Magid in comparison to their relationship as children although it may have been brief, and Irie’s relationship with Millat.
The separation from his brother has a negative effect on Millat; he turns to religious extremism with a militant Islamic group under the ironic Acronym of “KEVIN. ” This satirizes the intent of the group, which is to gain revenge on the Western world for oppressing non-white people. This adds humour to the serious contemporary issue of extremism in society today.
The stupidity of the group is evident as Zadie Smith satirizes Millat’s love for “DeNiro and Pacino gangster movies” which shows us that although Millat is serious when joining this group we know that it is partly only to satisfy his childhood dream of becoming a gangster. Before joining “KEVIN” Millat had become quite a sex icon, enjoyed watching gangster films and had become something of a local icon with all the different cultures and felt that, “he had to please all of the people… to the cockney wide-boys he was the joker… to the black boys he was fellow weed-smoker… o the Asian kids, hero and spokesperson. ” However, in order to remain with “KEVIN” Millat is forced to give up all Western values.
This satirizes his confusion and just how difficult it is for him to abandon most of the Western culture he has grown up with for such an unethical reason. Zadie Smith satirizes the contrast between the two families in Samad’s importance with outward appearances as he feels that his, “sons had failed him. ” This demonstrated as he “dreaded the inevitable visits of all of his relatives” and prepares to lie to them about his sons when telling them, Millat? He is in Birmingham working in the Mosque” and “Magid? He is marrying soon, wants a lovely Bengali girl, yes… upholder of traditions. ”
The character of Irie is also perplexed regarding her background, and her journey throughout the novel shows her desperately searching for an identity. Zadie Smith satirizes Irie’s situation as in her case she is searching for her Jamaican past, which she hopes to find through her grandmother, Hortense, as Clara, “separates herself from Hortense, from her childhood and from her culture. This contrasts to the situation of Magid and Millat who have first hand information about their culture from their parents. Irie doesn’t have this advantage and struggles to come to terms with her mixed race parentage. She feels she has a close bond with Hortense as she is, “like her grandmother, born of a British father and a Jamaican mother. ” Zadie Smith uses Irie to satirize the stereotypical troubled teenager and ironically, her name, which is Jamaican for “no problem” doesn’t quite fit her personality.
Along with her problems of identity Irie is infatuated with the character of Millat who is the more charismatic of the two brothers and is devastated when she ironically realises after sleeping with him, that “Millat does not love her. ” Her relationship with Millat had always involved her being, “his defender” therefore leaving her unable to seek revenge on him. Zadie Smith uses this situation to satirize just how confused Irie really is as she turns on Magid thinking that he had “damaged him” and was the cause of Millat being unable to “love anybody anymore.
As a result of this Irie makes “love to him angrily and furiously. ” Here Zadie Smith satirizes the similar traits of teenage angst portrayed within all religions and cultures. The third and most controversial family introduced to us is the assimilated English family of the Chalfens who are actually third generation Jewish immigrants. Some people might say that Zadie Smith uses the Chalfens as a parody of a middle class English family, who actually turn out to be Jewish.
They befriend Irie and Millat almost as projects and devote their time into setting them on the right path as they believe that their way is the correct way to do things and dismiss other cultures thinking that they are all misguided despite their good intentions. Zadie Smith satirizes this family to the extent that it does not seem possible for a family of this nature to exist in our society. She does this by playing with words and inventing their own individual family words which underline their values such as, “Chalfenism. ”
The Chalfens are vital to the overall structure of the novel as they allow all of the plot lines to intermingle and build up to an explosive ending whereby, the controversial issue of genetic engineering and cloning is on a direct collision course with many opposing groups, in order to highlight the many contrasts posed by different religions on delicate issues such as this since it has been said that, ‘what is the norm for one culture is offensive to another,’ which is the reason why it is a perfect opportunity for Zadie Smith to satirize the situation due to the lack of understanding of values concerning dissimilar cultures.
Marcus Chalfen who is responsible for arousing these protests is not aware that what he is doing is unjust or neither does he realise the extremity of “determining a mouse’s future. ” Zadie Smith puts forward Marcus’ point of view when satirizing the controversy caused by protesters who don’t see it as “determining the failure of cancer, reproductive cycle, or the capacity to age” but selectively only see it as “determining the future of the mouse. ” This upsets numerous groups of people concerned that Marcus is playing God by engineering and determining the mouse’s future.
This unethical behaviour leads to people fearing a world where humans are cloned and are then, in effect, “rootless. ” It is because of his project of FutureMouse he arranges a “meeting of minds” between himself and Magid who has now also become an assimilated immigrant and they become close friends and Magid is able to put forward his ideas in what could almost be described as a partnership as, “It was Magid who encouraged him out of the laboratory taking him by the hand… into the sunlit world where people were calling for him. Zadie Smith satirizes their closeness when Marcus makes a somewhat strange comment on the meeting of the two being, “twinned like each side of an equation, logically, essentially, inevitably. ”
Some people may perceive this relationship as a replacement for the loss of Marcus’ son Joshua. Zadie Smith uses the character of Joshua to satirize the Chalfens’ imperfection, despite what they may think. Joshua rebels against his family’s strangeness and their ingrained attitude of intellectual superiority by joining one of the main oppositions against his father, under the “Animal rights movement. Another group opposing Marcus’ eccentric scientific experiment is the fundamentalist Islamic organization of, “KEVIN” in which Millat is a prominent member who fear that Marcus believes he can, “improve upon the creation of Allah,” therefore seeing him as a huge threat.
Zadie Smith also satirizes the final opposition presented within the novel which comes from Irie’s grandmother who “causes a commotion” with her fellow old age pensioner Jehovah’s Witnesses friends who question Irie’s relationship with Marcus referring to her as the “secretary of the devil. Zadie Smith uses this combination of cultures towards the end of the novel to climax the ending and leaves us to contemplate whether our choices determine our future or whether fate leads us to an inevitable destiny.
Anne fox has quoted that, “Smith sees the blending of cultures as not so much a reason to mourn the loss of “purity,” but as a breeding ground for a new society where difference is secondary to living. She successfully deals with many contemporary issues within the novel such as race, ignorance, friendship and ethics, however the underlying subject is of the situation of immigrants failing to, or being able to gain acceptance in a foreign country. Although Zadie Smith satirizes the contrasts and relationships between different cultures, some people will agree that there is quite a large element of seriousness relating to the prejudice and relationships that immigrants inevitably face when living in a foreign country that possesses different ethics and principles.