Literature Study GuidesWhite TeethPart 3 Chapter 15 Summary

White Teeth | Study Guide

Zadie Smith

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Course Hero, "White Teeth Study Guide," July 20, 2017, accessed November 15, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/White-Teeth/.

White Teeth | Part 3, Chapter 15 : Irie 1990, 1907 (Chalfenism Versus Bowdenism) | Summary

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Summary

Although Hortense Bowden hasn't seen Irie Jones in six years, she knew Irie would return. Ryan Topps, now a church leader, lives with Hortense. Hortense explains sadly that being a woman prohibits her being a church leader. Topps chastises Hortense for interpreting scripture on her own. Hortense introduces Irie as Clara's daughter, telling Topps tearfully, "she might have been yours." Irie is confused. Topps claims his conversion has erased memories of his prior life, but later says Irie's face resembles Clara's. Hortense says Topps is involved in "fixing de final date; no mistakes dis time."

Atheist Irie is amused by Hortense's eschatological obsessions: "Bowdenism ... was living in the eternal instant, ceaselessly teetering on the precipice of total annihilation." Irie finds photographs, books, and other artifacts of her family's history. Losing her reverence for Chalfenism, she becomes fascinated with her "homeland," Jamaica, a place without "fictions ... myths ... lies ... tangled webs." In March 1992 Joshua Chalfen appears. Disgusted with his family, he has joined an animal rights group, FATE (Fighting Animal Torture and Exploitation).

On April 1, 1992, Samad appears at Hortense's. He is disappointed in his sons. Millat has disappeared with KEVIN people, and Magid is returning to study law on the Chalfens' dime. Samad says England "drags you in and suddenly you are unsuitable to return, your children are unrecognizable, you belong nowhere." His plans having failed, Samad despairs that "everything is an accident." In such a world, "what does anything matter?" To Irie, "the land of accidents sounded like paradise ... like freedom." Hortense won't discuss Ambrosia, saying Irie knows enough already. Ryan Topps informs Hortense "the day is indeed at hand ... the Lord ... never intended a third millennium." Overjoyed, Hortense invites Irie to join her in Jamaica for the end of the world. Irie is thrilled.

Analysis

Irie knows nothing of her family history before returning to her grandmother's house. In that flat, whose underground location is symbolic of the past, the hidden, the unrevealed, she experiences a conversion, although not the type Hortense would prefer. Irie had admired the deep-rooted Chalfen family tree and felt the absence of her own history, obscured in "rumor, folktale, and myth." She was then devoted to Chalfenism, with its reliance on logic and intellect and its belief in progress and control. She now rejects Chalfenism, but not for her grandmother's religion. Instead, she begins to excavate her ancestral past, piecing it together from the artifacts hidden in Hortense's flat. For the first time, Irie develops a sense of her roots. She rejects England for Jamaica, and her ideas about her true "homeland" as a paradisiacal, fertile land of accidents become her new reference point. Hortense wants to go to Jamaica to meet the end; Irie wants to go there to meet her beginnings.

While Irie finally feels she belongs somewhere, Samad Iqbal has come to feel he belongs nowhere. Contrary to his expectations, Samad's idealized homeland has not provided Magid with the proper roots. Thousands of miles' distance did not prevent England from taking Magid. Millat's Islam is radicalized, corrupted, and undeniably British; it is not the Islam Samad recognizes. Both Irie and Samad realize life isn't under their control. This makes Samad despair, but it gives Irie a sense of freedom. Their divergent reactions are perhaps generational. As an immigrant, Samad's experience is of loss and fear: the loss of the homeland, the fear of losing one's roots to cultural assimilation. Irie, as the child of an immigrant, has a different perspective: born in Britain, she has not had the experience of losing her homeland, but only of finding it, hidden but waiting to be revealed, in her grandmother's cabinets and in the upcoming trip to Jamaica.

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