White Teeth | Study Guide

Zadie Smith

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Course Hero. "White Teeth Study Guide." Course Hero. 20 July 2017. Web. 20 Sep. 2021. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/White-Teeth/>.

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Course Hero. (2017, July 20). White Teeth Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 20, 2021, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/White-Teeth/

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "White Teeth Study Guide." July 20, 2017. Accessed September 20, 2021. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/White-Teeth/.


Course Hero, "White Teeth Study Guide," July 20, 2017, accessed September 20, 2021, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/White-Teeth/.


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Zadie Smith

Year Published






Perspective and Narrator

White Teeth is narrated by a third-person, omniscient narrator. This choice of perspective allows the author to create a nuanced portrait of the intertwined lives of first- and second-generation immigrants and native Brits by giving the reader access to the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of a diverse set of characters.


The first 19 chapters are narrated in the past tense, but the final chapter is narrated in the present tense, with the exception of a flashback. The narrative jumps in time throughout the 20th century, but the final chapter concerns a single day in 1992.

By shifting tenses, the author gives the events of the final chapter—which tie together all the divergent threads recounted in the first 19 chapters—a sense of immediacy. Her use of the past tense for most of the book underscores the novel's preoccupation with the ways personal, familial, and cultural histories inform the present.

About the Title

Teeth are a recurrent symbol in the novel. They symbolize identity, a primary preoccupation of the characters. Just as teeth have roots, personal identities are inevitably rooted in the past. Like identity, teeth undergo profound changes as a result of life experiences. Healthy teeth, like healthy identities, nourish the self and the community—but teeth can also bite or rot, just as identities based on false premises can cause suffering and conflict. White teeth symbolize alignment with British cultural norms, which the novel's characters alternately resist and embody.


This study guide and infographic for Zadie Smith's White Teeth offer summary and analysis on themes, symbols, and other literary devices found in the text. Explore Course Hero's library of literature materials, including documents and Q&A pairs.

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