Literature Study GuidesWhite TeethPart 4 Chapter 16 Summary

White Teeth | Study Guide

Zadie Smith

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White Teeth | Part 4, Chapter 16 : Magid, Millat, and Marcus 1992, 1999 (The Return of Magid Mahfooz Murshed Mubtasim Iqbal) | Summary

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Summary

Part 4 opens with the dictionary definitions for fundamental and Fundamentalism, as well as a related quote from a 1931 song by Herman Hupfield, "As Time Goes By." Part 4 focuses on the defining experiences in the lives of Magid Iqbal, Millat Iqbal, and Marcus Chalfen that take place in 1992 and, because of the actions of fundamentalists of various stripes, reveal the framework on which the entire narrative—and the lives of the characters—is built. Marcus's FutureMouse is set to be on public display from 1992 to 1999.

The public attention drawn by the pop science book he recently coauthored, Time Bombs and Body Clocks: Adventures In Our Genetic Future, has left Marcus Chalfen exhausted by the various types of "idiots ... and ... other breeds of fundamentalists" who object to his work because of its political and moral implications. Joshua Chalfen, Marcus's son, won't speak to him. Marcus picks up Magid at the airport.

The Iqbals and the Joneses are suspicious of Magid, who is odd, formal, and long winded. Samad lies to others, saying Magid is "an upholder of traditions." Alsana resumes answering Samad "yes" or "no" rather than just "maybe." Magid lives with the Chalfens because Millat refuses to see him. Joshua goes to live with the Joneses. Irie works as Marcus's secretary. Marcus, having lost interest in everything but "Magid and his mice," feels Magid is his intellectual twin. Magid says, "I see ... god in the millionth position of pi, in the arguments of the Phaedrus, in a perfect paradox," and Irie realizes he is a kind of prophet.

An October 15, 1992, press release states FutureMouse will be publicly displayed for seven years, beginning December 31. FutureMouse has a "select group of novel genes ... added to the genome" which will be predictably expressed "along a predictable timetable." The public can watch as FutureMouse develops tumors and albinism. With the technology's potential to control and eliminate disease, aging, and genetic defects, FutureMouse heralds a new era, in which humans "are not victims of the random but instead directors ... of our own fate."

Joyce Chalfen is obsessed with forcing a reunion of, from her perspective, the traumatized twins. Irie tells her to worry about her own family; the twins are fine. Joyce isn't worried about Josh because, "it's perfectly natural for well-educated middle-class children to act up at his age." Joyce says she, unlike the twins' unconcerned parents, refuses to let them suffer.

Analysis

In his mind, Marcus, the white, middle-aged British father is "twinned" with Magid, the Bangladeshi youth raised in two countries. Marcus feels he is more kin to Magid than Magid is to his actual twin, Millat. Although Magid and Millat look alike and came from the same ovum, one is an atheist, philosopher, and scientist, and the other is a promiscuous, drug-using gang leader turned fundamentalist Muslim. For Marcus, the twinship of Magid and Millat is nothing more than a random genetic event—the very thing his work seeks to control. In the logic of Chalfenism and of Marcus's scientific research, this accidental twinship is inferior to the rational twinship of Marcus and Magid.

Smith raises questions about scientists' responsibility to consider the potential applications of their work. Marcus dismisses the fearful, outraged, or otherwise critical reactions to his work; his critics, drunk on conspiracy and fantasies of fascist or sci-fi horror, are less intelligent than he. Marcus intends for his work to improve human health and quality of life. He is aware of science's potential to be used to harm and control others—the reader may recall Dr. Marc-Pierre Perret, the French geneticist captured by Archie and Samad in 1945, who worked on the Nazi eugenics programs—but thinks the scientist shouldn't concern himself with such matters. The scientist should do science, and what is made of his discoveries once they leave his laboratory is a matter of "moral luck."

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