Literature Study GuidesWhite TeethPart 1 Chapter 3 Summary

White Teeth | Study Guide

Zadie Smith

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White Teeth | Part 1, Chapter 3 : Archie 1974, 1945 (Two Families) | Summary

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Summary

February 1975

The sole witnesses to Clara Bowden and Archie Jones's courthouse wedding, on February 14, 1975, are Samad Iqbal and his wife, Alsana Iqbal. At the wedding, Clara wears false teeth. Her mother disowns her for marrying a white man. Horst Ibelgaufts, the Swede who has been writing to Archie since their 13th-place tie in the 1948 Olympics, sends a letter of congratulations.

Both couples move to a nicer neighborhood, Willesden Green. Archie objects to Clara moving furniture: "It's man's work, love." Clara realizes Archie is a good but dull man. Archie quickly resumes spending his free time with Samad at O'Connell's. When Clara offers to make curry for Samad and Alsana, Archie objects: "For God's sake, they're not those kind of Indians." Similarly, he feels Clara is "not that kind of black."

Samad waits tables at his cousin Ardashir Mukhul's Indian restaurant. The Palace is a gaudy, inauthentic tourist trap. Unwilling to be seen as a mere waiter, Samad engages his customers in intellectual conversation. Alsana is pregnant, and the couple struggles financially. When Samad asks Ardashir for a small raise, Ardashir explains that "business in this country" prevents him from helping family members.

Samad assumed Alsana's youth implied docility. He tells himself Alsana's fits of anger represent "the way with these young women these days." Samad responds to Alsana's anger at their struggle to buy food by criticizing her for buying prepared food instead of cooking long hours like his mother. Alsana tears off her clothing, placing the shreds on a pile of meat he has taken from the freezer, and stands naked before Samad. She leaves the house.

On her walk, Alsana fails to avoid an awkward encounter with Clara Jones, who is working to rid herself of her accent. Alsana, who is formally educated and from "a respected old Bengal family," dislikes blacks, although "from every minority she disliked, [she] liked to single out one specimen for spiritual forgiveness." Clara is surprised to learn of Alsana's pregnancy, and the women realize their husbands share a bond from which they are excluded.

Analysis

Both Hortense Bowden and Alsana Iqbal disapprove of interracial marriage. Hortense disowns Clara Bowden (later Jones), and Alsana refers to Clara's future offspring contemptuously as "half blacky-white." They condemn the genetic admixing, which produces interracial children, yet they accept cultural intermixing. Further, both Hortense and Alsana ground their identities in cultural elements not indigenous to their homelands. Bangladeshi Alsana takes pride in her proper British education. Hortense's religion is American, not Jamaican in origin. Both women were born in British colonies and have chosen to live in Britain. Colonization and immigration lead to the intermixing of cultures; hybrid identities are the result.

Archie Jones's rejection of Clara's Jamaican cooking indicates his discomfort with this cultural intermixing. Archie's belief that his Bangladeshi best friend and his Jamaican wife should reject their own lesser cultures in favor of a wholehearted adoption of his superior British culture reflects the concept of "the white man's burden." This concept justified British imperialism by claiming British culture exerts a beneficial, civilizing influence on colonized subjects. Archie lacks the capacity to investigate the assumptions behind his attitude; instead, he feels a vague discomfort with the cultures of his wife and his best friend, whom he ignorantly misidentifies as "Indian."

Archie and Samad expect their wives to conform to traditional gender roles. Clara and Alsana, however, reject these roles, which are impractical. Clara moves furniture easily, while this "man's work" taxes Archie to the point of collapse. And Alsana works as a seamstress to secure the income necessary for the upward mobility she and Samad pursue; she doesn't have time to spend long hours cooking. During World War II necessity compelled women to fill roles men had previously occupied. The war's end spurred what is known as the second wave of feminism. Having demonstrated their abilities during the war, women challenged the inequality inherent in traditional gender roles and sought social and legislative reforms. Archie and Samad grew up before the war, while Clara and Alsana were born after. Alsana's violent disrobing before Samad conveys the absurdity of his traditionalist attitude: their economic situation doesn't permit a traditional gendered division of labor, and they both must work if they wish to eat.

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