Caribbean Literature and Genetics

I am currently taking another English class which focuses on Caribbean literature. We discussed Zadie Smith and the literary charactertistics of Caribbean literature that Smith embodies, specifically the use of memory. Memory and its effects on Caribbean literary characters is a common theme throughout Caribbean literature that also manifests itself in White Teeth. Part of my final project for the other class included the following paragraph:

Some Caribbean novels tackle the tension between an idealized past and a more accurate portrayal of history by exploring both facets through the point of view of different characters. Zadie Smith’s novel White Teeth is an example of the convergence of both methods interwoven in one story. One of the main characters Samad Iqbal harps upon the achievements and notoriety of his great-grandfather Mangal Pande. According to Samad, Pande was a brave revolutionary, a “hero, and every act [Samad] has undertaken in this war has been in the shadow of his example” (Smith 84). However, Pande was drunk rebel that fired the first shot of the mutiny in an attempt to kill himself. Samad aligns his and his family’s identity with the bold acts of an imagined revolutionary rather than accept that his son Millat is a promiscuous, domestic terrorist and his other son Magid is a soulless, eugenics scientist. The family’s lineage does not deserve the credit that Samad frequently and publically bestows, yet he focuses his attention on a glorified past to distract himself and acquaintances from his destructive children. An idealized past is favorable to an uncertain and traumatic present. However, another main character Clara Jones offers an alternate perspective on history. She is much more objective as she reflects upon the her past and its numerous problems. A childhood defined by her mother’s constant warnings about the end of the world, judgment day, and the division of the saved and the sinners is not forgotten or idealized by Clara. She even warns her own mother not to try to convert her daughter Irie, “filling her head with a whole lot of nonsense…the buck stopped with me and it ain’t going no further” (Smith 326). Clara abandons her memories as if “her world just disappeared, the faith she had lived by had receded like a low tide” and protects her family from its effects rather than forcing it upon them like Samad (Smith 38). The differences between the two characters offers the reader a clear distinction between people clinging to a romanticized past instead of facing the present and people abandoning the past in favor of the possibilities and opportunities of the future.

For me, the challenge with the novel White Teeth was to somehow combine the Caribbean theme of memory which is prevalent throughout the novel with the genetic theme that underlies all of the novels we have read in this class. An idea that the combination of the two genres presented was that the memories and histories of the families that comprise the main characters of the novel live in their genes. The hereditary characteristics of genes and DNA allow the histories of these families to literally live on through the generations in human form rather than just oral tradition. It could be a stretch, but by discussing the novel in two very different contexts, I felt that there had to be a connection between the two. What do y’all think?




~ by rlisotta on April 20, 2008.

One Response to “Caribbean Literature and Genetics”

  1. Glad to see our reading intersecting with your Caribbean literature course.

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