Literature Study GuidesWhite TeethPart 2 Chapter 10 Summary

White Teeth | Study Guide

Zadie Smith

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White Teeth | Part 2, Chapter 10 : Samad 1984, 1857 (The Root Canals of Mangal Pande) | Summary



In O'Connell's Archie and Samad are the unchallenged authorities on the histories they tell and retell. The narrator gives a timeline of the history of O'Connell's, which ends on New Year's Eve 1989, when Samad persuades Mickey to hang a portrait of Mangal Pande, despite the consensus that Pande's visage "puts people off their food." Samad constantly defends Pande's reputation; Archie has been dubious ever since reading in the Oxford English Dictionary that Pandy means "any fool or coward in a military situation." The version of history Archie learned in school, and which is promoted by contemporary British historians, depicts Pande as an intoxicated fool who bungled his own suicide attempt after realizing his uprising, in protest of the new pig- and cow-fat smeared bullets that disregarded the religious taboos kept by the Muslim and Hindu soldiers, was a failure. Samad dismisses this as "English propaganda." Samad's version of the story is finally vindicated when he comes across a book by A.S. Misra, in which he depicts Pande as a hero, whose uprising laid "the foundations of the Independence" of 1947. Reading the book, Samad is moved to tears.


In this chapter Smith examines fundamental questions of historiography, the study of the way history is written. Samad and Archie have opposing interpretations of Pande's role, which illustrates a fundamental issue in historiography: history depends on who is telling the story. The issue is one of power. British historians, and therefore the British education system, have vested interests in portraying their colonial subjects as weak, incompetent, and uncivilized, because such portrayals justify British political and cultural dominance over these subjects. White Teeth as a work of postcolonial literature, challenges the notion of a single received historical truth by exposing the ways power and politics shape historical narratives. It challenges the traditionally unquestioned veracity of the histories composed and propagated by those in power, while seeking to promote and legitimize the traditionally silenced voices of those who were subjugated. This struggle for historical authority plays out in the daily lives of Bangladeshi Samad, who represents the voice of the colonized, and British Archie, who represents the voice of the colonizer. It is also significant that Archie is satisfied with the over-simplified dictionary definition of Pande, to which Samad objects, maintaining that it is always more complicated than that.

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