Literature Study GuidesWhite TeethPart 2 Chapter 9 Summary

White Teeth | Study Guide

Zadie Smith

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White Teeth | Part 2, Chapter 9 : Samad 1984, 1857 (Mutiny!) | Summary

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Summary

Worried that Magid is unsafe in the Chittagong Hills of disaster-prone Bangladesh, Alsana Iqbal discovers she has no recourse to have her son returned to her. In the May 28, 1985, cyclone, Magid's nose is broken; Millat accidentally breaks his nose as well—an example of magical realism. Alsana decides that until her son is returned, she will never answer Samad "yes" or "no," but always "maybe." Magid sends a photograph of himself standing with a goat.

Rowdy, rebellious, handsome Millat loves trouble and is a leader among boys. Samad says the trouble is Millat is "too safe." Alsana notices a connection between the twins: similar things happen to each at the same time. On October 15, 1987, the Iqbals take refuge at the Jones's house during a violent storm. Mangal Pande is brought up, and Alsana says he's not the big deal Samad claims. Millat tells his crude version of the Pande story. A tree falls into the Jones's kitchen. Archie springs into action, and Samad reads from the Qur'ān. Irie has a crush on Millat; they sneak out to watch the storm, and Millat kisses her.

On January 14, 1989, Millat and his Raggastani crew, who respond to discrimination with toughness, attend a protest over a book that has galvanized the Muslim community, who feel it is blasphemous. Millat hasn't read the book, but he feels one with the angry people he sees on TV—people who, for once, look just like him. Watching the news, Alsana sees Millat participating in the book burning. She burns Millat's posters, albums, magazines, and books—anything secular he owns—to teach him, "If he starts burning other people's things, then he loses something sacred also."

On November 10, 1989, the Joneses and the Iqbals watch the fall of the Berlin Wall on television. Irie says the "amazing" event represents the triumph of Western democracy. Millat is dismissive, and Samad points out the dangers of a united Germany. When Irie challenges Samad, he says her book learning is inferior to his experience. The men imply their wives lack the life experience required for understanding and should stick to "emotional matters." The men go to O'Connell's after their families walk out on them.

Analysis

As Millat and Irie become adolescents, they form their own worldviews and challenge those of previous generations. Irie does this through knowledge she has learned at school. Millat does this by asserting his own toughness and forming his own community of similarly disaffected immigrant youth. Neither is interested in learning the lessons Samad and Archie would like to teach them; they consider the men's worldviews oversimplified, outdated, and irrelevant—as do Clara and Alsana. Magid is no doubt undergoing transformations of his own, but his distance allows his idolization—the photograph of him with the goat symbolizes, for Samad, his absent son's perfect allegiance to tradition.

In January 1989 Muslims marched through Bradford and burned copies of novelist Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. Similar protests were carried out around England; the religious leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, called for Rushdie's execution, and Rushdie's publisher received bomb threats. Rushdie, himself a cultural Muslim who was born in British India and later moved to England, was accused of blasphemy. Rushdie's book ignored taboos that forbade examining Islam as a historically situated ideology and Mohammed as a flawed human rather than a model being who should be free from ridicule. Millat's participation in the protests is an example of situational irony, since he has put his own, arguably blasphemous, spin on Islam: Allah is "a hard-as-fuck geezer," a mythical elder member of his street crew, whose ideology is a creative remix of disparate elements drawn from many cultures. Millat participates in solidarity with other Muslims, who have captured national attention and reclaimed their power in a way that speaks to Millat.

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