Novel “white Teeth”

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Novel “White Teeth”


Throughout the novel, teeth symbolize people. Teeth are white no matter what a person's race, making them a universal symbol of humanity. By the same token, they are enduring and preserved in the skull long after we die. Therefore, teeth leave a particularly long legacy and connect people throughout time. The actions of specific teeth represent the way we experience life. For example, canines are "the ripping teeth" involved in an initial bite. In a positive sense, they allow us to experience the sensuous things life offers, while in a negative sense, they are a predator's teeth and thus are threatening. Alsana likens the Chalfens' influence on Millat and Irie to the Chalfens ripping the children apart, destroying the qualities in them that are important to their own parents. Molars are the grinding teeth, which help us digest our food. Metaphorically, they help us process the information we take in and turn it into our own actions. In the chapter entitled "Molars," Magid and Millat catch Samad with Poppy as they bite into apples with their white teeth. Here, Smith uses molars to reflect that the twins "digest" their father's actions and are therefore destined to follow in his footsteps.


Our national origins and the tradition and history that go with them create our destiny as individuals often, teeth cause trouble, such as when Clara's upper teeth are knocked out of her mouth, or when Magid and Millat catch Samad with Poppy. Furthermore, teeth are easily lost. When Clara loses her upper teeth in the scooter accident, she simultaneously is rejecting the Jehovah's Witnesses and thus losing part of her identity. In the violence following Indira Ghandi's death, we are told that in the streets of India, there are "teeth, teeth everywhere, scattered throughout the land, mingling with the dust." As the people of India lose themselves to violence and intolerance, they knock out each other's teeth, forgetting that teeth unite human beings, and are common to all.( Squires, 172)

Smith uses the term "root canal" to describe the examination of someone's past. Even though teeth are universal, they are nothing without their roots. Samad tries to send Magid back to his Bengali roots, but as the narrator mocks: "You would get nowhere telling that the first sign of tooth decay is something rotten, something degenerate, and deep within the gums. Roots were what saved, the ropes one throws out to rescue drowning me, to save their Souls." By salvaging a tooth's root, as in a root canal, one does not necessarily save the tooth. Indeed, even sending Magid back to Bangladesh does not prevent him from becoming an English intellectual.

Irie is the character perhaps most frustrated by roots. She despises how the past and cultural heritage complicates and restricts the present. Therefore, she feels particularly deceived when she discovers Clara's upper teeth are false. Clara's false teeth are rootless, representing her lack of connection to her heritage. Therefore, in order to find her roots, Irie seeks out ...
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