Literature Study GuidesWhite TeethPart 4 Chapter 17 Summary

White Teeth | Study Guide

Zadie Smith

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White Teeth | Part 4, Chapter 17 : Magid, Millat, and Marcus 1992, 1999 (Crisis Talks and Eleventh-Hour Tactics) | Summary

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Summary

Alsana Iqbal reluctantly speaks to Joyce Chalfen. She blames the Chalfens for the split between the twins: Millat and KEVIN are organizing against Marcus and Magid's "ungodly mouse." Joyce says the situation has also fractured her family. They agree the twins must talk.

Millat struggles to embody Islam, but he is fundamentally a gangster. He intends to use his gangster's anger to fight "the presumptions of Western science ... his brother [and] Marcus Chalfen" since that's what KEVIN demands.

When Samad Igbal reluctantly takes Magid to O'Connell's to convince him to meet with Millat, he is irritated by the positive attention Magid receives. Mickey the proprietor, breaks the "no pork" rule to serve Magid a bacon sandwich. In the first place, Samad thinks the meeting is a bad idea; but when Magid is willing to meet Millat, Samad explodes, insulting Magid and warning him KEVIN is organizing a war against him. Millat, he says, is the type to "march onto the parade ground and fire the first shot." He disowns Magid. When Magid asks Archie's opinion about the meeting, Archie flips a coin, which lands in the coin slot of the pinball machine and activates the game.

Irie is charged with arranging the meeting, to be held in an empty classroom at Clara's university. When she hands Millat the room key, they have sex. It ends suddenly; Millat is horrified. Irie concludes Millat doesn't love her because having been born second makes him feel inadequate. "Determined to make Magid the second son for once," she immediately seduces Magid.

During their meeting on November 5, 1992, the brothers argue over their pasts and their opposing ideologies. In defiance of the stereotype that immigrants are "able to change course at any moment," the brothers remain committed to "their separate, dangerous trajectories." They will discover as they "race toward the future," that they "more and more eloquently express their past." As immigrants, "they cannot escape their history any more than you yourself can lose your shadow."

Analysis

Samad and Alsana know Millat is attracted to KEVIN not because he is filled with religious fervor but because KEVIN is essentially a gang with a clear ideology and mission. Despite his efforts, Millat will never succeed at religious asceticism. KEVIN is an outlet for Millat to express his deep political anger at racist, oppressive British society. Magid and FutureMouse have appeared as convenient symbols of Western power and oppression. The nebulous, pervasive enemy that has long tormented Millat suddenly has a clear shape and can be fought directly.

In asserting that Millat is the type to "fire the first shot," Samad makes a favorable comparison between his son and his heroic great-grandfather, Mangal Pande, who fired the first mutinous shot of India's first War of Independence in 1857. Pande's motivation was ostensibly religious: it was a protest over the new rifle cartridges, smeared in cow- and pig-fat, that the British had given their Hindu and Muslim soldiers. Since these cartridges had to be bitten open before being loaded, they embodied the utter disrespect of the British for Hinduism and Islam, which prohibit the ingestion of cows and pigs. But Pande didn't start a war over minutiae; the cartridges provided an immediate justification for the expression of a long-simmering anger over British colonialism in India. Similarly, Samad expects Millat to act heroically, not in protest over a tumor-ridden mouse, but out of his anger over the social, cultural, political, and economic hegemony of Britain and the West, which continues to oppress decades after colonialism's end. KEVIN might be a bunch of green-bowtie-wearing lunatics, but Samad approves of Millat because he believes he will carry on Pande's legacy.

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