|Publication date||27 January 2000|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|Dewey Decimal||823/.914 21|
|LC Classification||PR6069.M59 W47 2000b|
|Followed by||The Autograph Man|
White Teeth is a 2000 novel by the British author Zadie Smith. It focuses on the later lives of two wartime friends—the Bangladeshi Samad Iqbal and the Englishman Archie Jones, and their families in London. The book won multiple honours, including the 2000 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, the 2000 Whitbread Book Award in category best first novel, the Guardian First Book Award, the Commonwealth Writers First Book Prize, and the Betty Trask Award. Time magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.
Plot summary 
On New Year's Day 1975, an Englishman named Archie Jones, a 47-year-old man whose disturbed Italian wife has just walked out on him, is attempting to commit suicide by gassing himself in his car when a chance interruption causes him to change his mind. Filled with a fresh enthusiasm for life, Archie flips a coin and then finds his way into the aftermath of a New Year's Eve party. There he meets the much-younger Clara Bowden, a Jamaican woman whose mother, Hortense, is a devout Jehovah's Witness. Clara had been interested in the unattractive, antisocial Ryan Topps, but their relationship falls apart after Ryan becomes a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Archie and Clara are soon married and have a daughter, Irie, who grows up to be intelligent but with low self-confidence.
Also living in Willesden, London, is Archie's best friend is Samad Iqbal, a Bengali Muslim from Bangladesh; the two men spend much of their time at the O'Connell's pub. Archie and Samad met in 1945 when they were part of a tank crew inching through Europe in the final days of World War II, though they missed out on the action. Following the war, Samad emigrated to Britain and married Alsana Iqbal, née Begum, in a traditional arranged marriage. Samad is a downtrodden waiter in a West End curry house, and is obsessed by the history of his great-grandfather, Mangal Pande, who allegedly fired the first shot of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (and missed). Samad and Alsana have twin boys, Magid and Millat, who are the same age as Irie. Samad in particular finds it difficult to maintain his devotion to Islam in an English life; he is continually tormented by what he sees as the effects of this cultural conflict upon his own moral character - his Muslim values are corrupted by his masturbation, drinking, and his affair with his children's music teacher, Poppy Burt-Jones. In an attempt to preserves his traditional beliefs, he sends 10-year-old Magid to Bangladesh in the hope that he will grow up properly under the teachings of Islam. From then on, the lives of the two boys follow very different paths. Ironically, and to Samad's fury, Magid becomes an Anglicized atheist and devotes his life to science. Millat, meanwhile, pursues a rebellious path of womanizing and drinking - as well as harboring a love of mob movies such as The Godfather and Goodfellas. Angry his peoples' marginalization in English society Millat demonstrates against Salman Rushdie in 1989 and eventually pledges himself to a militant Muslim fundamentalist brotherhood known as "Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation" (KEVIN).
The lives of the Joneses and Iqbals intertwine with that of the white, middle-class Chalfens, a Jewish-Catholic family of Cambridge educated intellectuals who typify a distinctive strain of North London liberal trendiness. The father, Marcus Chalfen, is a university lecturer and geneticist working on a controversial 'FutureMouse' project in which he introduces chemical carcinogens into body of a mouse and is thus able to observe the progression of a tumor in living tissue. By re-engineering the actual genome and watching cancers progress at predetermined times, Marcus believes he is eliminating the random. The mother, Joyce Chalfen, is a horticulturist and part-time housewife with an often entirely misguided desire to mother and 'heal' Millat as if he were one of her plants. To some extent, the Chalfen family provides a safe haven as they (believe themselves to) accept and understand the turbulent lives of Irie, Magid, and Millat. However, this sympathy comes at the expense of their own son, Joshua, whose difficulties are ignored by his parents. Originally a well-moulded "Chalfenist", Joshua later rebels against his father and his background by joining the radical animal rights group "Fighting Animal Torture and Exploitation" (FATE). Meanwhile, after his return from Bangladesh, Magid works as Marcus' research assistant on the FutureMouse project, while Millat becomes further involved in KEVIN. Irie, who has been working for Marcus, briefly succeeds in her long-hidden attraction to Millat but is rejected under his KEVIN-inspired beliefs. Irie believes that Millat cannot love her, for he has always been "the second son" both symbolically and literally; Millat was born two minutes after Magid. Irie makes Magid the "second son" for a change by sleeping with him right after her romantic encounter of Millat. This causes her to become pregnant, and she is left unsure of the father of her child, as the brothers are identical twins.
The strands of the narrative grow closer as Millat and KEVIN, Joshua and FATE, and Clara's mother Hortense and the Jehovah's Witnesses all plan to demonstrate their opposition to Marcus's FutureMouse - which they view as an evil interference with their own beliefs - at its exhibition on New Year's Eve 1992. At the Perret Institute, Hortense and the other Jehovah's Witnesses sing loudly in the hallway. Samad goes out to hush them, but when he arrives, doesn't have the heart to make them stop. When he returns, it suddenly strikes him that the founder of the Perret Institute and the oldest scientist on Marcus Chalfen's panel is Dr. Perret, the Nazi he captured during World War II. Enraged that Archie did not kill him all those years ago, Samad runs over and begins cursing Archie. Just then, Millat advances on the table of scientists with a gun. Without thinking, Archie jumps in front of him and takes a bullet in the thigh. As he falls, he knocks over the mouse's glass cage, and it escapes.
At the novel's end, the narrator presents us with different "endgames" in the style of television. Magid and Millat both serve community service for Millat's crime, since witnesses identify both as the culprit. Joshua and Irie end up together and join Hortense in Jamaica in the year 2000. Mickey opens up the previously men's-only O'Connell's pub to women, and Archie and Samad finally invite their wives along with them.
Major themes 
The story mixes pathos and humour, all the while illustrating the dilemmas of immigrants and their offspring as they are confronted by a new, and very different, society. The reader can determine certain qualities and negativities about certain non-British cultures while they are contrasted in the setting of an altogether different host culture. Middle-and working-class British cultures are also satirised through the characters of the Chalfens and Archie.
As part of the characters' experience as immigrants, they are confronted with conflicts between assimilating and preserving their cultures. The novel depicts the lives of a wide range of backgrounds, including Afro-Caribbean, Muslim, and Jewish. Just as the quote at the beginning of the novel states, “What is past is prologue.” Smith uses the characters and their various cultural backgrounds to show the complexity involved in immigration and replanting one’s roots. For instance, first generation characters are confronted with pressures to assimilate into British society and preserve their native cultures. Consequently, many become conflicted and have difficulty finding a place in their new surroundings. Characters such as Alsana, Samad, and Clara all face complications when assimilating into British culture and as a result experience a continued sense of ‘unrootedness’. They are unable to replant their roots in a new territory.
Smith uses second generation characters Irie, Magid, and Millat, to demonstrate how the impacts of immigration are augmented over time. These characters do not feel any more strongly connected to Britain despite being born there. To the contrary, Irie, Magid, and Millat are greatly affected by their parents’s ‘unrootedness’, and they also have difficulty finding a place. Their assimilation process is even more complicated, because they are farther removed from their native cultures. All of the characters in White Teeth exhibit that knowing one’s roots is not always a liberating experience and can be very challenging for immigrants and those with mixed racial backgrounds. Lineage and culture cannot be traced easily; it veers into many different directions due to migration and ‘unrootedness’.
As a second generation immigrant, Clara, introduces her parents to new facets of mainstream culture and her peers to facets of the culture of her homeland. This is exhibited by Clara and Ryan’s relationship and then Ryan’s bond with Clara’s mother Hortense Jones. Ryan is the catalyst of Clara’s diversion from her heritage, while Clara serves as the medium for Hortense’s introduction to whiteness and Ryan’s to blackness and a new religion. Similarly, Samad meets his mistress Poppy Burt-Jones, the twins’ teacher. Ironically, when he becomes involved at school to fight for the incorporation of celebrating Muslim holidays at the school. These second-generation immigrants reflect Smith’s argument of the past and present being in dialogue, as their present lives disrupt their parents connection to the past.
The multiple view points allow for Smith to approach the idea of multiculturalism and the racial undercurrents of Western society from the viewpoints of many different characters. While characters like Alsana deal with the prejudices of London society, she, too, can subscribe to similar prejudices. “Black people are often friendly, though Alsana, smiling at Clara, and adding this subconsciously to the short ‘pro’ side of the pro and con list she had on the black girl. From every minority she disliked, Alsana liked to single out one specimen for spiritual forgiveness." The wider scope of characters allows Smith to delve into all the people populating a community, viewing it from all sides and all nuances. Smith once wrote "I just wanted to show that there are communities that function well. There's sadness for the way tradition is fading away but I wanted to show people making an effort to understand each other, despite their cultural differences."
While the main families in the plot attempt to create lives for themselves, there is still a struggle to hold on to their past. For instance, Samad feels that the English life is not conducive to an adequate Islamic upbringing. He attempts to preserve Magid’s faith and sends him to Bangladesh, yet Magid grows up to be a man of science, not faith. Millat moves in the opposite direction: he becomes involved with KEVIN, a militant and fundamentalist Islamic group. Irie is obsessed with the question of one's roots. She is excited to visit Jamaica with her grandmother, but at the same time hates her kinky African hair and her Jamaican curves. She dreams of a future when roots will not matter. When she gets pregnant and realizes she'll never know who the father is, she is almost happy her daughter will not have to deal with problem of roots. Roots are a pervasive theme in White Teeth. Samad clutches onto them, viewing them as sacred and necessary. He worries that he or his family will lose their roots. Samad once says to Archie regarding his children losing their roots, "People call it assimilation when it is nothing but corruption. Corruption!" Archie doesn't have any roots, and Clara tries to escape hers. She leaves her mother and Jehovah's Witness past behind, but can never truly purge it. "But how fragile is Clara's atheism! Like one of those tiny glass doves Hortense keeps in the living-room cabinet--a breath would knock it over." Religion is a large part of both the Bowdens' and the Iqbals' roots. Hortense is preoccupied with continuing the Jehovah's Witness tradition, and Samad worries about losing his Muslim faith.
The leitmotif of teeth and in particular the white teeth of the title play a recurring role throughout. While the families in the book have numerous things that set them apart, white teeth is an overarching quality. No matter the color of their skin, the religion they follow, or the country they come from—they have white teeth. Although Clara loses her teeth in a moped accident early on in the narrative, they are replaced by a set of false ones, the existence of which is only discovered by her daughter when she is a teenager. Irie's decision (if it can be classed as her own decision) to become a dentist is another recurrence of this theme. Irie, by becoming a dentist and looking after the teeth of her community, shows that she is trying to look after a unifying element in society, rather than the diversifying elements. This unifying element (unifying parts of different cultures in a new host culture) is a typical theme of literature by and about the offspring of immigrants in different cultures.
The theme of teeth illuminates an overarching theme of the novel - universalism. Most of the critical relationships in the lives of the main characters are ones developed by chance. Archie and Clara Jones incidentally stumble upon one another at a New Year's Eve party. They are drawn together by “accidental” similarity, as both Clara and Archie are both coming out of serious relationships (with Ryan and Ophelia, respectively). Even Clara and Ryan are also bound together by chance. They are united by the difference that separates them from everyone else at St. Jude’s, both being “neither Irish nor Roman Catholic.”  Smith’s characters are not just raced or ethnicized beings, they are first and foremost human beings. The characters in “White Teeth” do not fall neatly into assumptions of how persons of a particular group are supposed to behave. She does not essentialize Jamaicains, Bengalis, Muslims, or any group of people. In fact, often in “White Teeth” characters of different races and ethnicities have more in common than those within the same group, as discovered in many of these chance encounters.
In referencing to the theme of “teeth” in the novel, Smith illustrates a metaphor using the term "root canal" in order to show the examination of someone’s past history. This is revealed when Samad tries to send Magid back to his own Bengali roots, in hopes to prevent Magid from losing his culture. The narrator comments on the action with using the metaphor of root canal by stating, “that the first sign of tooth decay is something rotten, something degenerate, deep within the gums. Roots were what saved, the ropes one throws out to rescue drowning me, to Save their Souls." This refers to the situation that is going on with Samad and Magid because it explains that by recovering the teeth’s root, like in a "root canal", doesn’t automatically save the tooth. For instance, if Samad send Magid back to his roots in Bangladesh, it doesn’t prevent him from conforming to English culture.
This book also delves into the concepts of human relationship. Archie and Samad remain best friends despite the failed relationships of their families and culture. Magid and Millat, on the other hand, do not approve of each other's lives and never become cordial brothers.
A theme of Assimilation is also a prevalent part of White Teeth. The second generation children Irie, Millat and Magid struggle to find their way to fit into the larger context of mainstream white British society. Irie does this through chemically straightening her hair and desiring a thin white body. Millat does this by refusing, initially, to follow his father's religion Islam. The children are drawn to their idea of a physical manifestation of proper British whiteness in the Chalfens. They attempt to align themselves with them despite numerous hints that something is not quite right with the family, especially the overbearing mother Joyce. The quest for assimilation ultimately alienates the children from their parents making it hard for them to connect with their immigrant or non-traditionally white families. In the end all three children rebuke the idea of assimilation and instead attempt to navigate their place in the world as individuals.
Another underlying theme that can be found in Zadie Smith's "White teeth" is the theme of chance and coincidence, which is used quite often in the lives of the Iqbal family. Samad's failed attempts to control his sons destinies only pushes his sons further away, as Milat becomes a rebel and Magid "More English than the English." Milat and Magid are subjects of constant coincidence and chance, which can be seen when one brother breaks his nose and the other brother break his nose as well. Ultimately Samad, Milat or Magid have no control over their destinies. Archie too relies heavily on chance usually making his decisions based on the flipping of a coin even his own life.
Fundamentalism is shown in three distinctive manifestations (KEVIN, FATE, Jehovahs Witness) contrasted throughout the second half of the novel. Many of the characters who join FATE and KEVIN are interested in the security accessible through fundamentalism or the excitement found in the groups, rather than the doctrine of the fundamentalist groups. The members of these groups often have ulterior motivations: Millat had a desire to participate in the hip-hop, mafia culture which was fulfilled by his membership in KEVIN; Mo Hussein-Ishmael joined KEVIN for status; some members of FATE join to be closer to Joely or Crispin; Joshua’s focus is less centered on eliminating animal cruelty and more focused on rebelling against his father, Marcus, and his sexual attraction to Joely. Ironically, to become fundamentalists, Millat and Joshua had to reject their fundamental roots (represented by their rebellion against their fathers). Conversely for fundamentals, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, there is not a separation between their doctrine and their life. Hortense and Ryan Topps are committed to the Jehovah’s Witness doctrine and are satisfied living a simple, isolated life.
Major characters 
Alfred Archibald Jones 
Archie, the protagonist, is mediocre and indecisive, preferring to make his most important decisions with the flip of a coin. Archie's ex-wife is Ophelia Diagilo, whom he supposedly drove insane with his mediocrity. He later marries Clara, a Jamaican woman less than half his age, with whom he has a daughter, Irie. Archie's best friend is Samad Iqbal. The two men served together in World War II in the British Army and frequently visit O'Connell's pub.
Samad Miah Iqbal 
Archie's best friend, a middle-aged World War II veteran with a crippled right hand. Samad was born in Bangladesh and met Archie when they were soldiers in Eastern Europe. He works as a waiter at an Indian restaurant, where he receives few tips. His wife is Alsana Begum, and his twin sons are Magid and Millat. More than anything, Samad wants his sons to grow into religious, traditional Bengali Muslim men. To ensure this, he goes to great lengths, even sending Magid to be raised in Bangladesh (for all intents and purposes, this was a kidnapping). Samad is religious and outspoken, relishes control although he is a staunch believer in destiny, and fancies himself to be more worldly and intellectual than others credit him. Samad's plot revolves around the difficulties he finds adapting to British culture while still holding on to his Bangladeshi heritage, and also raising his second generation immigrant sons while they become a product of cross cultural identity.
Clara Jones 
Clara Jones, née Bowden, was an awkward, unpopular Jehovah's Witness who spent her adolescence proselytizing door-to-door. When she meets the equally unappealing Ryan Topps, she abandons her religion and takes up his rebellious ways, though Ryan becomes a staunch Jehovah's Witness himself. When Ryan and Clara crash into a tree on Ryan's scooter, Clara's top teeth are knocked out. She meets Archie Jones and marries him, even though she finds him unimpressive and he is more than twice her age. Archie and Clara have a daughter named Irie.
Alsana Begum 
Alsana Iqbal, née Begum, is the young wife of Samad Iqbal, to whom she was promised before her birth. They have twin sons, Magid and Millat. To help pay bills, she sews clothing for an S&M shop called Domination in Soho. Although charismatic and judgmental by nature, she thinks marriage is best handled with silence. However, she has a volcanic temper and generally wins fights with Samad by injuring him.
Irie Ambrosia Jones 
Irie - whose name means "Ok, cool, peaceful" in Patois - is the daughter of Clara and Archie Jones. Irie has been friends with Magid and Millat Iqbal since birth. After struggling with her racial and sexual identity, Irie finds answers in her grandmother, Hortense Bowden. She resolves to go into the field of dentistry and, despite her best efforts to prevent it, ends up with Joshua Chalfen. Having slept with both Magid and Millat, Irie gives birth to a daughter whose father can never be known, as the twins have exactly the same DNA.
Millat Zulfikar Iqbal 
Millat is the younger son of Samad and Alsana, and twin brother of Magid. After Magid is sent to Bangladesh, Millat comes into his own as a trouble-making, pot-smoking rebel who engages in a large amount of sexual activity. However, Millat eventually rejects this lifestyle in favor of fundamentalist Islam, becoming a major driving force of KEVIN. At the FutureMouse conference, he tries to shoot Dr. Perret, but instead shoots Archie in the thigh. Millat may or may not be the father of Irie's baby.
Magid Mahfooz Murshed Mubtasim Iqbal 
Magid is the elder son of Samad and Alsana, and twin brother of Millat. Magid is intellectually precocious and insists on dressing and acting like an adult, even at a very young age. Magid resents his heritage and wishes he and his family were more "normal" and English. Samad essentially kidnaps Magid and sends him to be raised traditionally in Bangladesh. To his father's unhappiness, Magid becomes a suit-wearing, secular, English intellectual. When he finally returns to London, he joins Marcus Chalfen's FutureMouse program. Magid is fascinated by the certainty of fate genetic engineering offers, and by having the power to choose another creature's path, as his was chosen for him. Magid may or may not be the father of Irie's baby.
Marcus Chalfen 
Marcus Chalfen is a Jewish genetic engineer and husband of Joyce Chalfen. His controversial FutureMouse experiment involves genetically altering a mouse so that it develops cancers at specific times and sites. Marcus loses interest in mentoring Irie when he begins corresponding with Magid.
Joyce Chalfen 
Joyce is a horticulturalist, writer, and the wife of Marcus Chalfen. She has four sons, all who adore her fiercely. Joyce is a natural nurturer and constantly feels the need to care for things and people. From the moment they meet, Millat entrances Joyce, and she feels the need to mother him and pander to his needs.
Joshua Chalfen 
Joshua is the son of Joyce and Marcus Chalfen. Originally interested in his studies at Glenard Oak school, Joshua rebels against the Chalfens (particularly his father) by joining the animal-rights groups FATE. Joshua has a long-standing crush on Irie and, later, on Joely. He stays in FATE largely as an excuse to remain close to her.
Television adaptation 
A four-part television adaptation of the novel was made and broadcast on Channel 4 in 2002. It was directed by Julian Jarrold and stars Om Puri as Samad and Phil Davis as Archie. Each episode focuses on a major male character as he encounters a turning point in his life: The Peculiar Second Marriage of Archie Jones, The Temptation of Samad Iqbal, The Trouble With Millat, and The Return of Magid Iqbal.
- The Whitbread Book Awards 1971-2005
- "All Time 100 Novels". Time.
- Smith, Zadie (2000). White Teeth. New York: Vintage Books. p. 55.
- "interview with Amazon".
- Smith, Zadie (2000). White Teeth. New York: Vintage Books. p. 159.
- Smith, Zadie (2000). White Teeth. New York: Vintage Books. p. 326.
- Smith, Zadie (2000). White Teeth. New York: Vintage Books. p. 24.
- Smith, Zadie. White Teeth: A Novel. New York: Random House, 2000. Print.
- Zadie, Smith "White Teeth"
-  White Teeth on Hulu
-  White Teeth sparkles on TV
See also 
- Squires, Claire. White Teeth - A Reader's Guide. (New York: Continuum International, 2002).
Further Reading 
- Bentley, Nick. "Zadie Smith, White Teeth". 2008. In Contemporary British Fiction, 52-61. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0-7486-2420-1.
- White Teeth at the Internet Movie Database
- Zadie Smith discusses White Teeth on the BBC World Book Club
- Official website for film adaptation (with trailer)
- Random House Description of White Teeth at Random House
- Excerpted portion from White Teeth
- White Teeth Interview with Zadie Smith
- White Teeth by Zadie Smith Exploration of the cultural implications of Zadie Smith's debut novel by Stephen Moss.
- Review of White Teeth in the Guardian, by John Mullan.
- Article in the Guardian on the TV adaptation of White Teeth