Zadie Smith: „White Teeth“ - The Families

Term Paper, 2006

10 Pages, Grade: 2,5


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Main Part 1
Summary of the novel „White Teeth“

3. Main Part 2
3.1. Definition “family”
3.2. The family Jones
3.3. The Family Iqbal
3.4. The family Chalfen

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

When you start a course in a new semester you have different expectations what to deal with in this course. In sports it is obvious practicing the kind of sport you have chosen. But in English most expectations are different because you have never heard of some topics in your life before.

The course “Black British Writing” with Mrs. Bartels fulfilled my expectations surprisingly because we dealt with different British authors whose origins are in southern countries and who live in Great Britain, now.

The main part of this course was taken up by the novel White Teeth by Zadie Smith. Therefore it seems appropriate writing an essay about this book. Of course, it is not possible to write ten pages about the whole book, but to concentrate on one important aspect.

The aspect I will concentrate on is the introduction and analysis of the members of the three families dominating the novel. The families presented in the novel are not the kind of family I know in real life. Their attitudes towards life differ from ideologies like in Germany which is worth being analysed and that opens new vistas.

2. Main Part 1

2.1. Summary of the novel “White Teeth“

The novel starts on New Year's morning in 1975; Archie Jones, a working-class man, ordinary with a failed marriage sits in his car on a London road and thinks of committing suicide because of his ruined life. When the owner of a nearby halal butcher shop who is annoyed because Archie's car is blocking his delivery area comes out and bangs on the window, he gives Archie another chance at life and sets in motion this richly imagined, uproariously funny novel.

White Teeth is the story of three North London families, one headed by Archie, the other by Archie's best friend, a Muslim Bengali named Samad Iqbal. They are pals since they served together in World War II, Archie and Samad are a decidedly unlikely pair. The third family called Chalfen plays a minor role with impressing Archie’s daughter and Samad´s son.

3. Main Part 2

3.1. Definition “family”

Nowadays people say that the family is an arbitrary cultural structure. When society changes in the past, the family does so, too.

In Biblical times, the family was a patriarchal clan. There was a man with his wives and concubines, and their many children. Through most of history, the family changed into a monogamous couple raising their children and spending their whole life together in peace.
According to this view, a new definition of family is coming up today: a group of people held together by bonds of love and affection. This emerges a variety of family forms: a man and a woman, married or unmarried, with or without children, gay or lesbian couples, singles, with or without children, and even groups of individuals in a various communal living arrangement. According to this view, what is important is not the actual family structure, but the quality of the relationships which can perfectly be shown in the three families presented in the novel.

3.2. The family Jones

The family Jones consists of three family members, Alfred Archibald, his wife Clara and his daughter Irie.

Archie is a 47-year-old Englishman who was first married to Ophelia Diagilo, an Italian woman who left him after 30 years of marriage.

This incident introduces the reader to the story, for Archie wants to commit suicide because of his ruined life which was determined by his time in the army and his marriage to Ophelia. “But Archie Jones didn´t want to die in some pleasant, distant woodland […], country people should die in the country and city people should die in the city.”1

The behaviour of Archibald Jones described at the beginning already proves his weak character that he is not able to deal with difficult situations in life and that Archie has no self-confidence.

Archie has no motivation to continue his life which does not make sense anymore.

However, Archie does not search for any solution to change his life; he does not feel responsible for himself or for others.

Later in the story Archie meets the much younger Clara at a party of a hippy-commune and marries her after a short time.

His best friend with whom he feels very connected since 1945 is Samad Iqbal.

During the story the character of Archibald Jones changes a bit. He listens to problems of other people and tries to solve them which is a proof that it is easier for him to care about other problems or people than to care about his own problems. 2

Archibald’s wife Clara was 19 years old when she first met Archie. She is a Jamaican woman with a Caribbean accent. Archibald finds her “beautiful in all senses except maybe, by virtue of being black, the classical.”3 Her physical appearance is “magnificently tall, black as ebony and crushed sable, with hair plaited in a horseshoe […].”4

However, Clara does not think Archibald is very attractive, but a really considerate and loving husband.

Clara is pregnant with Archie’s daughter Irie, but later in Irie´s puberty she does not treat her as an equal but more than a little child, because Clara does not know how to deal with teenager-problems.5

Archie’s and Clara’s daughter is called Irie Ambrosia; Ambrosia because of her grandmother who was also called like this.

Irie has wild curled hair, but wants to have it straight to look more like a real English girl who normally has no curled hair. Irie is also a bit chubby which makes her really unhappy and her shyness in unknown situations shows her to have no self-confidence. To cover these human mistakes Irie uses a vulgar language during her education to create an image of her female power.

When Irie gets to know the Chalfen family she is really fascinated by the relationship between the parents and the children, for she does not experience such a relationship in her own family.


1 Smith, Zadie: White Teeth, 2000, S. 3

2 vgl. Smith, Zadie: White Teeth, 2000

3 Smith, Zadie: White Teeth, 2000, S. 23

4 Smith, Zadie: White Teeth, 2000, S. 23

5 vgl. Smith, Zadie: White Teeth, 2000

Excerpt out of 10 pages


Zadie Smith: „White Teeth“ - The Families
Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg  (Institut für Anglistik)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
399 KB
Englisch, Literatur, Zadie Smith, White Teeth
Quote paper
Nicole Fürch (Author), 2006, Zadie Smith: „White Teeth“ - The Families, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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