Zadie Smith Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Zadie Smith is known for her short fiction as well as her novels. She first came to the attention of the publishing world with the short story “The Newspaper Man” in the 1997 May Anthologies, the annual collection of work by students at Oxford and Cambridge. Her short stories have appeared in Granta and The New Yorker as well as in anthologies. Smith has edited and written introductions to several collections of short stories.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

As a clever and inventive writer and a woman of mixed race, Zadie Smith became a symbol of a new multiethnic strain of British writing. White Teeth won a host of awards, including the Guardian First Book Award—a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize—and the Whitbread Book of the Year Award, both in 2000. White Teeth was translated into more than twenty languages and was adapted for television. The Autograph Man won the Jewish Quarterly Review’s Wingate Literary Prize in 2003. Also in 2003, Smith was included in Granta magazine’s list of twenty Best Young British Novelists. On Beauty was short-listed for the 2005 Booker Prize, and it won the Orange Prize for fiction in 2006.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Crossing racial and cultural boundaries has been a hallmark of Zadie Smith’s career. Discuss this idea in the context of each of her books and its characters.

Many critics felt that Smith’s second novel, The Autograph Man, did not live up to the promise of her widely acclaimed first novel, White Teeth. Do you agree? Why or why not?

Some of the scenes in Smith’s novels are laugh-out-loud funny, such as the scene in White Teeth when Irie Jones decides to have her hair straightened. What scenes in her books made you laugh?

Smith’s work has been described as a brilliant mixture of references to both pop and high culture. List some examples of each type of culture referred to in her books, such as films, pop stars, and literary references.

One of Smith’s themes is the unpredictability of life. Discuss some examples of the role that chance and coincidence play in her work. Archie Jones’s tossing of the dice to make important decisions is an image of chance. Can you think of other scenes or images that emphasize life’s unpredictability?


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Childs, Peter. “Zadie Smith: Searching for the Inescapable.” In Contemporary Novelists: British Fiction Since 1970. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Childs offers accessible analyses of twelve late twentieth century and early twenty-first century British novelists. Also includes a chapter on his reading of Smith’s White Teeth and The Autograph Man.

Dawson, Ashley. Mongrel Nation: Diasporic Culture and the Making of Postcolonial Britain. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. Includes the chapter “Genetics, Biotechnology, and the Future of ’Race’ in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.”

Head, Dominic. “Zadie Smith’s White Teeth: Multiculturalism for the Millennium.” In Contemporary British Fiction, edited by Richard J. Lane, Rod Mengham, and Philip Tew. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2003. Focuses on the multicultural aspects of Smith’s novel White Teeth. Part of a collection surveying the reception and literary status of contemporary British fiction.

Phillips, Caryl. “The Pioneers: Fifty Years of Caribbean Migration to Britain” and “White Teeth by Zadie Smith.” In A New World Order: Essays. New York: Vintage Books, 2002. Phillips’s essays in this collection foreground Smith’s position as an Anglo-Caribbean writer.

Squires, Claire. Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth”: A Reader’s Guide. New York: Continuum International, 2002. An accessible slim volume that illuminates White Teeth for general readers rather than literary critics or advanced students of literature.

Walters, Tracey L., ed. Zadie Smith: Critical Essays. New York: Peter Lang, 2008. A comprehensive collection of essays solely devoted to Smith. Section 1 discusses postcolonial and postmodernist readings of Smith. Section 2 discusses racial identity and race mixing in Smith’s work.