White Teeth is a novel written in the year 2000 by Zadie Smith. It tells the story of the latter lives of a pair of wartime friends, the Englishman Archie Jones and the Bangladeshi Samad Iqbal, and their interconnection with each other, both directly as well as indirectly. This paper focuses mainly on the social relationships between the characters in White Teeth, which are shown in various forms, like interpersonal and intercultural.
The novel displays intercultural relationships in a variety of ways. According to Amanda (2007), the first-generation characters (who include Alsana, Samad, Hortense and Clara) share “diasporic” experiences since all of them are immigrants to England, and the second-generation characters (Irie, Magid and Millat) share the memory of immigration as well as a diaspora since they are all immigrants’ children. Being rooted in the past as well as the present causes a feeling of togetherness and, contrarily, instability. Archie and Samad occasionally meet in O’Connor’s Pool House, owned by Abdul-Mickey, to vent about their wives and children as well as to consider important life decisions, hence merging their identities with the aim of creating emotional links. Through this, Abdul-Mickey is capable of inhabiting their two different worlds.
Irie feels invalidated at school when she grows up, as she is unable to form proper and healthy relationships with most of her adolescent peers. This is due to a few reasons: one, the racism that she faces from the white members of society; and two, the fact that she is unable to find an identity for herself. This ends up in her having not-quite-normal relationships when she grows up. For instance, she has sex with the twins, Magid and Millat, in such a short time that when she becomes pregnant, she is unable to tell who the father is.
The novel displays intercultural relationships in a variety of ways. While the relationships among Joshua, Irie, Millat and Magid, and other members of their generation are often strained, this is rarely due to racial tensions. Irie, Millat and Magid are the products of a hybrid community, and they take this for granted. For their generation, the norm is cultural mixing, as they become accustomed to London's multi-racial society. The relationship between Samad and Archie endures throughout the entire novel, despite the fact that it is tested by Samad's accelerating fundamentalism. In almost all of the meaningful relationships within the novel, culture or race is no boundary, but simply an addendum.
Racist incidents are usually shown in retrospect, creating a gap between the reader and them. There are incidents of racism in the novel; for example, Mo has become 'a victim of attacks and robbery…three times a year', hurting at the hands of policemen, high school children, teenage thugs and drunks. The assaults are racially motivated, and his attackers ‘[are] all white' (472 - 473). These racist incidents are significant in the story. When she is labeled a 'kinky-haired big-ass bitch' (272), Irie does not face the taunt directly; but the statement is instead mediated by a series of 'handlers.' Smith presents an idealized portrait of the then-London's inhabitants as well as downplays the negative effects of racist attacks. However, through confining these racist incidents to the far edges of the narrative, the story conveys that at the time intercultural relations were not quite as strained or fraught as people may think.
Samad and Archie's relationship is kind of ordinary; the two have got their own traditions as well as customs. They are comforted by their traditions. Samad mouths off about Mangal Pande and his two sons, while Archie listens. This relationship is between men, rather than an English man and a Bengali man. Millat's relationship is put down by his radicalization due to the fact that his politics mean he may no longer savor his relationship as a human being.
A long time ago in the jumble of the hash Millat remembered that there had been a girl called Karina something or another that he had liked. And she had liked him. And also she had had an outstanding sense of humor that felt much like a miracle, and Karina had looked after him while he was down and in turn he had looked after her too, even if it was in his own way ... Karina seemed distant at the present, like childhood and conker fights. And that was that. (376)
This recollection is poignant due to its nostalgic comparison between 'childhood' and games that imply freedom from responsibility that is no longer capable of being accomplished for Millat. The tragedy is that Millat chose to break off his relationship with a person that he quite clearly cared for very much. While Archie and Samad’s relationship survives the radicalization of Samad, the same cannot be said for the relationship between Millat and Karina.
Contrasting Millat, Irie chooses not to become radical or even fundamentalist. She desires to be free, to simply get on with her life. Millat is unable to defend his identity from the barrage of outside cultural expectations. However, Irie dreams of her unborn child as being a 'perfectly plotted thing that has no coordinates' (516): a child with no history or discoverable origin.
In conclusion, White Teeth uses sociological relationships with the aim of exploring different themes like racism and cultural discrimination. It also uses relationships to show that our decisions shape not only our lives, but the lives of the people around us.
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