Sibling Constellations in "White Teeth" (2000) and "Britz" (2007)

Intermediate Examination Paper, 2011

16 Pages, Grade: 1,7



1. Introduction

2. Analysis of Sibling Constellations
2.1 White Teeth – Magid and Millat
2.2 Britz – Sohail and Nasima

3. Conclusion

4. Works Cited

1. Introduction

In the end of White Teeth and Britz, the respective sibling pairs are at the same time at the same place, each opponent fighting for his or her conviction and against the sibling. But the fact that in the end they are together in the same situation doing the same, reveals that siblings are connected to each other, no matter what conflict they are fighting out. The novel White Teeth by Zadie Smith from 2000 and the movie Britz by Peter Kosminsky from 2007 are both dealing with the motif of opponent siblings and their conflicts. Although this constellation is used as a starting point in both works, the realization and development of the stories is interpreted differently. This paper shall show the parallels and differences of the two sibling pairs amongst each other and their conflicts, and be compared to the tradition of the motif of sibling constellations in literary history, to show the development of facets of this motif. It is accepted to be a fact that both sibling pairs are geared to the literary motif of rivalling siblings, but in White Teeth, the more traditional form of two brothers, in this special case actually twins, is discussed and enhanced, whereas Britz seizes a brother-sister-constellation, which traditionally can be seen as harmony endowing and less rivalling. To get a basis for analysing and comparing the special cases in the chosen works, the motif history and its development will be revised with some examples, which is followed by the argumentation part.

2. Analysis of Sibling Constellations

The history of the motif of siblings in literature goes far back into ancient times. Especially the motif of antagonistic brothers has a very far back reaching tradition in literature. Very well-known examples are the biblical characters Cain and Abel (Genesis 4, 1 – 16) whose hatred came from their oppositional characters and ended in the murder of Abel by Cain due to envy (cf. Frenzel 81). The abandoned twins Romulus and Remus from Latin mythology were fighting against each other for primogeniture and property, until Romulus slew Remus (cf. Frenzel 82). The conflict between competing brothers is almost always like in those examples and it takes only slight turns in traditional literature: The brothers fight each other for the love of their parents and sometimes of women. Mostly always, one brother is killed by the other in the end. In later literature the motif was extended to opposing sisters (cf. Frenzel 83). Their reasons were mainly parallel to the male ones: their oppositional characters force them to fight about their parents’ love or the love of men (cf. Frenzel 83). For the constellation of brother and sister are also examples existing, just like Apollo and Artemis from Greek mythology, who are representatives for day and night (cf. Witcombe), or Hansel and Gretel from the Brothers Grimm, but none of them offer such an conflict horizon as it is the case for the siblings in Britz. In the case of the examples of modern literature, which are to be discussed here, the conflicts are not that simple anymore, because the reasons for conflicting interests are not traditional, on the contrary, they turned very complex and thereby are not that obvious anymore. Additionally, the conflict constellation grew from a “same-gender-sibling-conflict”- motif to a “sister-brother-conflict”. For the movie Britz the analysis and interpretation of the conflict will be interesting, because the constellation of opponent brother and sister has not yet been analysed as far as the traditional constellations. But although the conflicts have developed a multi-facetted appearance, one basic aspect of the motif stayed the same and has still a great influence on the protagonists. The children are fighting for their reputation and conviction, and in cases, this is part of the impulse of the conflict.

2.1 White Teeth – Magid and Millat

“What is past is prologue” – Inscription in Washington Museum

White Teeth is the debut novel by Zadie Smith from 2000. It narrates the story of two special families whose lives are intersecting several times until they are going to be united in one child. Archie Jones, patriarch of a half British, half Jamaican family, married to Clara Bowden, and Samad Miah Iqbal, head of a British Bangladeshi family, husband of Alsana Begum, are best friends since they fought alongside in the second World War. Their children all have trouble with their culture and immigrant background, which is why they fight for their own identity and heredity. Representative for the whole misery in the book are the twins Magid and Millat Iqbal, who are fighting out their personal conflict throughout the story, which shall be surveyed and analysed in the following.

Magid Mahfooz Murshed Mubtasim Iqbal and Millat Zulfikar Iqbal are identical twins, born as second generation Bangladeshis in England. Magid is the elder by two minutes, which can be seen as the cornerstone of the conflict they fight out through life. This whole conflict is predetermined by the fact that Magid is the elder twin. This fact was also recognized by Irie: “What was the root cause? Millat’s feelings of inadequacy. What was the root cause of Millat’s feelings of inadequacy? Magid. He had been born second because of Magid. He was the lesser son because of Magid.” (Smith 462). This feeling of being not as much worth as his brother causes an identity crisis in Millat, which is the reason for his craving for attention. Especially in the case of Samad, Millat needs to attract attention, because his father more and more prefers Magid, the more Millat stands out due to negative behaviour. This vicious circle is also very similar to the traditional motif, where enviousness and disfavour for the older brother or twin is often the cause for raising a conflict (cf. Frenzel 81).

It is not the case that the brothers are disliking each other from toddler-age on, as well as Samad is not preferring one twin from their birth on. Not only because he is very proud of his sons, but also because he wants his twins to carry and fulfil the heritage of Samad’s great-grandfather Mangal Pande (cf. Smith 102). By his opinion that he will be living one day through his children and his doings, he entails great pressure on his sons. “[…] your actions will remain. […] Some day our children will know it. Our children will be born of our actions. Our accidents will become their destinies.” (Smith 102, emphasis in the original). But the behaviour of Samad and his wife Alsana, influences the twins and foments hatred between them. Millat becomes a rebellious, immoral young man, who drives his father mad by provoking him at any opportunity, because his parents tried to push him towards the heritage of Mangal Pande and the traditional and religious upbringing Samad experienced in his youth. Magid instead becomes an anglophile, atheistic intellectual, who wants to study law in England. This is only strengthened by his denial of the Western culture, which is, in his opinion, influencing his sons negatively and will ruin them in the end, because it has no adequate values or morality:

`I have been corrupted by England, I see that now – my children, my wife, they too have been corrupted. […] I wish to live as I always meant to! I wish to return to the East!`[…] `And who,` said Shiva […] `can pull the West out of ‘em once it’s in?` […] `I should never have come here – that’s where every problem has come from. Never should have brought my sons here, so far from God. […]` (Smith 145).

A proof for influencing and segregating his sons by this behaviour to deny the Western culture, although it is the culture of his sons, is the log of a school governors meeting:

13.2 Mr Iqbal wishes to know why the Western education system privileges activity of the body over activity of the mind and soul.

13.3 The Chairwoman wonders if this is quite relevant.

13.4 Mr Iqbal demands the vote to be delayed until he can present a paper detailing the main arguments and emphasizes that his sons, Magid and Millat, get all the exercise they need via headstands that strengthen the muscles and send blood to stimulate the somatosensory cortex in the brain. (Smith 127, emphasis in the original).

That meeting had the consequence that the sons are not allowed to participate in a festival at school (cf. Smith 130). The reaction of his children and Irie clarifies the wedge that this behaviour is driving between the sons. While Millat, as it is described to be his character at the age of nine (cf. Smith 134f), seems to be fully unaffected by the outcome of that meeting (cf. Smith 149f), Magid and Irie, supported by their mothers, are “protesting about the Harvest Festival” (Smith 150), because they realize the scope of that prohibition being a denial of Western culture, their culture. Samad tries to avoid every little influence that Western culture and Western education could have on his sons. It becomes obvious that Samad has not thought of the dimensions of his decision to come to England and raise his children in London (cf. Smith 145). The past influences the present and the future. But this decision cannot be reversed, he cannot change the past to change the future, because he has not the needed liquidity to end his family’s living in England and go back to Bangladesh. The only thing which is left for him to do, which can influence the future, is to preserve his sons from a godless life without faith and values.

From the point of the first temptation personified by Ms. Poppy Burt-Jones and his later affair, Samad Miah is thinking about the discrepancy of his belief and actions (cf. Smith 137f). This leads him to do the worst thing he could do to his twins, he wants to save his sons from the evil Western society, he decides to send them back “home” to Bangladesh to learn and profit from the culture and turn good Muslims. Unfortunately, Samad realizes that he has only the funds for one son to be send back. He has to come to a decision. Samad prefers Magid over Millat: “Magid was really Samad’s favourite” (Smith 195), and even worse, it becomes visible that he is disliking his second son: “Millat is a good-for-nothing” (Smith 135). Nevertheless, the decision is not easy for him. He changes his mind several times and decides for Magid in the end (cf. Smith 196). By this separation, the boys’ connection seems to be irretrievably lost. The education Magid enjoys makes him an atheist instead of a Muslim, who wants to become a lawyer to help to create genetically modified creatures (cf. Smith 367). He developed to the contrary of what his father was expecting him to become. He cannot deny his roots in England and therefore gets a British education.

`Allah knows how I pinned my hopes on Magid. And now […] he is coming back to study the English law […]. He wants to enforce the laws of man rather than the laws of God. He has learnt none of the lessons of Muhammad […]. […] he is nothing but a disappointment to me.´ (Smith 406).


Excerpt out of 16 pages


Sibling Constellations in "White Teeth" (2000) and "Britz" (2007)
University of Tubingen
Literature PS II - Extremism in Recent British Fiction and Film
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
528 KB
Zadie Smith, White Teeth, Britz, Peter Kosminsky, Sibling constellations, Geschwister
Quote paper
Valerie Hurst (Author), 2011, Sibling Constellations in "White Teeth" (2000) and "Britz" (2007), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Sibling Constellations in "White Teeth" (2000) and "Britz" (2007)

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free