White Teeth is an immense collision of themes played out in the last decades of the twentieth century. Zadie Smith published her first novel, White Teeth, shortly after graduating from Cambridge, making her entrance into England’s literary heritage and doing so with unthinkable success. As a writer, she is reminiscent of George Elliot, Charles Dickens, Martin Amis, and Salman Rushdie. However, unlike some of her predecessors, Smith writes about England’s contemporary issues, such as immigration and multiculturalism, in the language of those she is writing about. As a true anthropologist, she speaks the dialect of a wide range of people, from a Jamaican Jehovah’s Witness to a street-smart Bangladeshi-English teenager. She demonstrates an incredible sense of empathy toward her characters and is fluent in their cultures.
The characters of Smith’s London come from various continents, cultures, and religions, which makes the intersection of immigration and race one of the most immediately obvious themes of the novel. Smith describes the immense tragedy of immigration, which includes a loss of stability and status and the struggle to assimilate in a new culture without losing one’s native identity. These are daily issues in the household of the Iqbals.
According to critic Mark Rozzo, other immigration/race issues in the novel are the “nationalist fear of miscegenation,” or race mixing, and tolerance. Surprisingly, the leading white character, Archie Jones, displays exceptional tolerance of diversity: His wife, Clara, is biracial and his best friend, Samad Iqbal, is Bangladeshi.
Through the Chalfens and their relationship to the children of the immigrant Iqbals, Smith unveils the “counterpart of white racism,” what critic Meritt Moseley calls white fascination with the Other. Joyce loves Millat as a fetish, while her husband, Marcus, objectifies the exotic wide hips of Irie. Disguised behind their flashy open-mindedness, the Chalfens continuously comment on the color of the children’s skin and on their racial features. To the Chalfens, the children are...
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