Archie, Make a Decision Already

If you really want to know about the character of Archie Jones in Zadie Smith’s novel White Teeth, read on. 


Archie Jones is not decisive.  A casual reading of the book will make this very clear to the reader.  In the blog “The End” (below), Archie is made out to be a “bumbling idiot” that has “no idea about what he is doing.”  I think that this is a somewhat careless summary of his character.  Archie Jones is not described as an idiot.  In several instances he proves to be prepared and logical.  This is evidenced by his preparedness during the storm in the novel that knocks down the tree in his front yard.  Also, he seems to make very good sense at times.  For instance Archie offered a logical and knowledgeable argument at O’Connell’s concerning the likely actions of Samad’s grandfather Pande. 


The problem is not that Archie bumbles around in life (he may even think too much).  The flaw in Archie’s character is his indecisiveness.  The following paragraphs focus on several events that highlight Archie’s true character.


Zadie Smith opens her novel with Archie sitting in his car outside of a butcher’s on New Years Eve with the car running, waiting for the exhaust to fill his car and end his life.   However, Archie had blocked the driveway to the butcher’s, and the owner came out to interrupt his suicide.  Archie listened to the man and decided to put off his suicide to another day.  This is the first example in White Teeth, where Archie is not able to choose a course of action when presented with alternatives. 


Archie is not a man who can make decisions easily. 


He cannot even come up with advice for Samad about what to do with his boys.  Samad wanted his best friend’s advice about which son he should send back to Bangladesh to receive a traditional education.   Instead of coming up with a decision for Samad, Archie repeated to Samad the advice that he solicited from the owner of the bar.  Archie did not even tell his friend that this advice was not his own.  In this example, Archie cannot even make a simple decision of advice.  He would rather ask the owner of a bar to make a recommendation for his friend than have to face the uncertainty of making a simple decision.


Later in the novel, Archie’s buddy Samad again needed advice from his best friend.  Samad’s older son Magid had just returned from his time in Bengal and was freuding with his younger brother Millat.  Samad was very upset with his sons’ attitude toward each other and argued with Magid at O’Connell’s about whether the two should meet in order to reconcile their differences.  Archie, watching this entire episode, once again proved his inability to make difficult decisions when Samad asked him to decide if the twins should meet.  Archie chose to toss a coin in order to make his decision.  Miraculously, the coin ended up falling into the pin ball machine.  This coin toss is symbolic of Archie’s difficulties with making decisions.  Archie’s choice of throwing a coin to make major decisions is also a habit that is not new him, and here it foreshadowes a time when the reader will learn of another moment when Archie uses a coin toss to make a decision.   


At the conference where Marcus displays the FutureMouse, Smith described Archie’s first coin toss decision.  Smith took the story back to WWII, when Archie and Samad are transporting a German scientist by the name of Dr. Sick.   Dr. Sick begged for his life, but Archie could not decide if he should do as Samad asked or let the man live.  So, Archie decided to flip a coin.  While the coin was in the air, Dr. Sick took Archie’s gun and shot him in the leg.  The coin landed in Dr. Sicks favor, and Archie let him live.  Archie let him live after being shot by him in the leg!!   An enemy had just shot him in the leg and yet he stuck to the decision determined by the coin. Archie was so unconfident in his decision making that even after a hostile action by an enemy POW, he defered to the chance of a coin toss.


Why then, does Archie make the quick decision to jump in front of a bullet at the end of the novel?   Does the author want to suggest that Archie is simply acting like an unguided idiot that just happens to save the day?   I don’t think so.  What would be the point of that. 


At the end of the novel, Archie saw Millat pointing the gun at Dr. Sick and Decides to jump in front of the bullet.  Here he proves himself braver than he has ever been before in the novel.  He makes a decision for the first time without help from Samad or a coin.  


I think that Smith wants to show growth in Archie’s character, and how brave he could have been given the right circumstances.  


Someone had to take up for  poor Archie.  He has been bashed too much in class and now in the blogosphere. 


-Alec Petersen

~ by anonymous on April 19, 2008.

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