Literature Study GuidesWhite TeethPart 3 Chapter 14 Summary

White Teeth | Study Guide

Zadie Smith

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White Teeth | Part 3, Chapter 14 : Irie 1990, 1907 (More English Than the English) | Summary



Magid Iqbal and Marcus Chalfen become pen pals in March 1991. As Marcus's secretary, Irie secretly reads their correspondence and jealously realizes Magid, not she, is Marcus's protégé, and Marcus thinks Irie should be a dentist.

Millat Iqbal has many white girlfriends, but his favorite is Karina Cain. He has joined the Islamic group KEVIN, and the KEVIN leadership members give him a series of leaflets about Western women and sexuality. After reading them, Millat becomes highly critical of Karina's clothing and behavior, believing that, as the leaflets suggest, she is "prostituting herself to the male gaze." He dumps her, gets drunk, and goes to the Chalfens house, where he cries and throws a violent fit. Joyce offers to pay for therapy.

Clara and Irie Jones fight over Irie's desire to spend a year in Africa prior to entering university to study dentistry. Knowing her mother is most susceptible when she is half asleep, Irie goes into her parents' room on the night of October 25, 1991, to beg Clara's permission. Irie claims she wants to "see how other people live;" Clara claims Africa is dangerous and she can look at other people here in London. Clara's voice sounds strange, and Irie discovers her mother wears false teeth. They bite Irie's foot when she accidentally kicks over the glass containing them. The teeth were not an intentional secret, but to 16-year-old Irie, they are "another item in a long list of parental hypocrisies and untruths." She runs away to her grandmother's flat.


By the time they are 16, none of the Jones or Iqbal children are living with their parents. Magid is in Bangladesh, Millat lives with the Chalfens, and now Irie has gone to live with her grandmother. Each child has also rebelled intellectually. Magid wants to be a lawyer and is now being courted by Marcus to help with his genetic research. Millat has become a radical yet drug-using Muslim, rather than the kind of Muslim his father would like him to be. Irie wants to go to Africa and rejects Clara for Hortense, her ideological opposite. Each child has also been profoundly influenced by the Chalfens—even Magid, thousands of miles away. Millat, whose own mother, Alsana, rejects the modern Western preoccupation with talking and self-revelation, is about to enter talk therapy on Joyce's dime. Irie has decided to be a dentist because that's what Marcus thinks she should do.

As the chapter's title indicates, these three adolescents, the children of immigrants, have become "more English than the English." Smith suggests the new character of British identity, which is embodied in the generation Irie, Millat, and Magid belong to, is multiethnic and multicultural. It is drawn from a matrix of Eastern and Western influences; it is both spiritual and secular, and it is shaped by choice rather than bound by tradition. It has arisen out of colonialism and the end of colonialism, and it is in dialogue with both the past and the future.

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