Literature Study GuidesWhite TeethPart 2 Chapter 8 Summary

White Teeth | Study Guide

Zadie Smith

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White Teeth | Part 2, Chapter 8 : Samad 1984, 1857 (Mitosis) | Summary



For ten years Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal have met nightly at O'Connell's, a restaurant favored by old men where "history was never revised or reinterpreted, adapted or whitewashed." Having confessed his affair to Archie, Samad says visions of his twin sons when he is with Poppy Burt-Jones trouble him. His own immorality renders him unable to guide his sons, so he must make a difficult choice—just as Archie made in 1945, when he "struggled with" and "won out" against the Nazi, Dr. Marc-Pierre Perret. Archie doesn't want to discuss that.

Samad says England is corrupting his sons. Archie, on the other hand, "kind of felt people should just live together, you know, in peace or harmony or something." Mickey, the proprietor of O'Connell's, says Samad has two choices: send his sons back to "whereverthefuckitis" or accept that "we're all English now."

Samad decides he will send one boy back. Despite mortgaging his house for this purpose, he lacks the money to send both. He struggles to choose between his sons until Archie receives a letter from Horst Ibelgaufts describing how removing a strong oak from his garden allowed the weaker plants to thrive. Magid, the more serious of the two, must go. Samad keeps his decision hidden from his family and plans to kidnap Magid.

On October 31 Indira Ghandi is assassinated. When Alsana weeps, fearful for the safety of her loved ones in the riots that will surely follow, Samad becomes angry and tells her she doesn't know who she is or where she came from. Alsana says England is safe; she is suspicious that Samad is up to something. They have a physical altercation. Samad ends the affair with Poppy Burt-Jones. On November 4, a few hours before the kidnapping, Samad is forced to wait on Poppy at the restaurant. She wants him to acknowledge their affair, but he waits on her as he would any stranger. In the wee hours of November 5, Archie meets Samad with the children to take Magid to the airport. Samad misleadingly allows the children to believe Magid's trip will be short.


The chapter's title, Mitosis, refers to the splitting of one cell into two identical cells. Mitosis, the biological process behind the growth of organisms, is a metaphor for Samad's decision to separate his twins and send one to Bangladesh, so that at least one boy will grow up in the traditional culture Samad values.

Smith demonstrates how the past reaches forward through time to influence the present. It is Horst Ibelgaufts, a man Archie met once at the 1948 Olympics, whose letter provides the metaphor that convinces Samad that Magid, not Millat, should go abroad. Additionally, Samad admires Archie for killing Dr. Marc-Pierre Perret in 1945 and sees himself now faced with a similarly difficult choice. However, Archie's reaction to Samad's comment about the incident indicates Samad's understanding of the incident is probably not correct. Nonetheless, just as in 1945, Archie is once again Samad's pawn in his morally dubious scheme. Archie doesn't understand Samad's sense of Britain as a corrupting force. He has vague ideas about living in harmony and does not grasp the complexity of the inner conflict Samad, as an immigrant caught between two worlds, struggles with. Despite this, Archie's loyalty to his friend compels him to participate in what is technically a kidnapping.

The traditional arranged marriage of the Iqbals is marked by a lack of understanding and compassion. Unable to talk to each other, husband and wife settle their differences by attacking each other physically. Although neither is wearing traditional Bangladeshi dress, Samad expresses disgust for Alsana's running shoes and African Kente cloth headwrap, because he resents her absence of inner conflict about the family's cultural assimilation. For Samad, losing the roots of his traditional culture is the greatest threat to his life. In contrast, Alsana values the safety of life in England; India and Bangladesh are dangerous places she is glad to have escaped. Alsana has no romantic notions about the past, traditional culture, or life in the East. In this way she is much more practical than her dishonest husband, whose idealistic conception of life in India and Bangladesh tortures him to the point of kidnapping and sending away his own son.

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