The novel White Teeth is a novel written by Zadie Smith which has received critical reviews especially for its heavy use of symbolism. Zadie Smith especially uses the symbolism of teeth particularly white teeth to bring out a message. This paper is a discussion of the significance of symbolism used in White teeth by Zadie Smith. The most important thing element that is symbolized by white teeth is family relationships. Smith goes into particular detail to link the multigenerational histories and life of two families the Iqbals and the Jones. White teeth in particular are held by Smith to be a symbol of the foundations and roots which glue families together. The opposite of white teeth meanwhile is held to act as a poisoning element in destroying such relationships. The leitmotif of teeth and particularly white teeth keeps on recurring and this makes it quite significant. The families in the novel may have a lot of qualities which distinguish them yet they all have one common factor that of teeth in particular white teeth. Teeth are a unifying dimension regardless of skin color, religion, or country of origin.
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Even the latter decision of Irie to become a dentist has overtones that hinge on unity of the human species rather than diversity. White teeth are used by Smith to portray the unity of the human species just as many other authors have portrayed this theme using other means. The novel white teeth brings together people of Bengali, Jamaican and British descent into a common melting pot using the symbolism of teeth. White Teeth tackles a multiplicity of issues ranging from familial and ethnic, historical, etymological and the cultural. Clara is a young Jamaican lady married to an Englishman, Archie Jones. Clara loses her front teeth and as such she obtains a pair of dentures which she wears. The dentures are so white gleaming and perfect to everyone who sees them. Clara however, does not inform her daughter of her loss of front teeth, and that she now wears dentures. Her daughter Irie only comes to learn of he mother’s false teeth when she knocks over by accident a glass containing the dentures in her mother’s bedroom. To her daughter Irie, this revelation of false teeth which are gleaming white symbolizes yet another thing to be added to the long list of parental hypocrisy and untruthfulness. White teeth also brings about the issue of how people understand each other in the family and community and also how people understand themselves through history as portrayed or transmitted to them by their elders.
The discovery b Irie that her mother has all along been wearing false teeth is an indictment of the practice by elders to mislead their young ones concerning their past which lead to a distortion o reality making it impossible for an individual to gain an understanding of their foundations, roots and history. The theme of attaining an understanding of the past and the present is an important one and is represented by the twin sons of Iqbal and Irie millat and Majid. These young persons have to in some way confront their past in order to understand their present and future. Archie upon the discovery of Clara’s false teeth sees it as no big fuss as he says they are just some bloody teeth. His fascination for suicide however belies his attitude as being a person who is unable to confront life’s realities. Zadie Smith makes an allusion to teeth when she tackles the issues of familial history. She makes reference to poisoned roots in referring to family relationships.
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The discovery of her mother’s false teeth by Clara poisons their relationship and her roots as she feels that she cannot be sure what of her familial history to believe. All she has been told by her mother concerning where she comes from is now brought into question. The appearance of a Nazi doctor in the lives of Archie and Jones is also in reference to relational and historical roots. The Nazi doctor brings to mind histories which are a true test of the friendship of Archie and Samad. Archie and Samad relationship is based upon their shared experiences in the Second World War and the Nazi doctor only serves to bring up the terrible history of British colonialism, racial discrimination and lack of self will upon the two friends. These things are undercurrents in the relationship between the two men which if left unresolved may result to the destruction of the friendship. Smith asserts that cultural and persona history nip and bite at each other the same way in which teeth bite at food which is essential in providing nourishment for bodily growth and upkeep. Zadie Smith also uses the symbolism of decayed teeth to present her argument. She introduces the family of Martcus Chalfen which is likened to plaque in its destructive capability. The Chalfen clan is particularly a bad thing for relationships as it is a family of eccentrics who have a strong intellectual bent. Through the Chalfen family, Smith presents the destructive qualities that eccentric intellectualism can bring upon relationships. The Chalfen family serves to bring friction in the relationship between the Iqbals and the Jones by bringing into question their roots.
The Iqbals presented with too much intellectualism from the Chalfen family begin to balk upon their friendship with the simple Jones. The culmination of the novel with the presentation of the genetically engineered mouse intentionally bred with a self destructive gene is a reference to teeth which are sprout while unhealthy and is also a reference to relationships which flourish in unhealthy circumstances and which are bound to fail. One such relationship is the relationship between Clara and Irie which is based upon untruthfulness and falsehood and hence it is bound to fail. According to Smith, people carry their histories and cultural foundations just like a tooth would have a root. While Samad Iqbal is a Muslim from Bengal, Archie Jones is a Briton the fact of which plays a very significant role I their relations. Zadie Smith further goes on to say that just like a white tooth’s root the roots of a person can become rotten. The experiences of Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal in World War II form the roots of their friendship. With the entry of the Nazi doctor and the Chalfen clan these roots are poisoned by previously underlying emotions concerning intellectualism, racism and British colonialism. The relationship of Clara and Irie suffers a blow upon the discovery of her mother’s set of dentures. The roots of the relationship which had been based upon trust and truthfulness are poisoned and brought into question by the discovery that her mother had been living a lie. This is an allusion to the fact that just like the roots of a white tooth can be abscessed and rotten so too human relationships.
In the fifth chapter Smith fleshes out her theme of white teeth. The title the root canals of Samad Miah Iqbal and Alfred Archibald is just a symbolic and metaphoric and is not about dentistry. The employment f the word root canal is used to portray the examination of a person’s history and foundations no matter how sensitive. Clara and Alsana only have limited knowledge of their husbands their real selves being hid behind a fa?ade. In actual life the term root canal brings up notions of dread and pain. Smith uses this to suggest that the examination of a person’s past and history may sometimes be painful. It is also an implication that there exists some rottenness within the tooth. As a matter of fact the story of the doctor Peret only serves to bring to the fore the rottenness of Samad’s and Archie’s past. However just like it is essential to examine the root canal for the preservation of a tooth likewise it is important to probe one’s history so as to prevent anonymity and as a means of securing one’s future. By the use of this metaphor Smith asserts that the making of a life worth while only comes with the true consideration of our history and our future. Samad is in a constant endeavor to accomplish this yet puts so much emphasis on his future legacy and his heritage making it almost impossible for him to take pleasure in the present. On the other hand Archie whose roots are firmly British is so unconcerned with his legacy and heritage which results in a life of indecisiveness.
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The use of white teeth has been used very effectively in bringing out the etymological, familial, historical and cultural relationships in a family and community. White teeth have been used to show how relationships are founded o trust and truthfulness. She has shown the effect of negative practices such as not showing compassion and care for each other in the family can have on relationships. She shows quite conclusively the role played by heritage, legacy and history in fostering and maintaining personal identity and in promoting future and present life. Through the metaphor of teeth she has successfully shown the influence of heritage history and culture on relationships by comparing it to the root canal of a tooth.