Genes and Fate in White Teeth
*Wordpress decided it didn’t like how I posted this last b, so let’s see if this will fix the problem.
The bits of calcium, nerve and enamel which garnered titular honors in Zadie Smith’s novel are mentioned frequently throughout the first half of the book. However, though the characters’ experiences and the narrator’s metaphors and analogies continually refer to teeth, a central theme involving them has not yet emerged.
This is where the analyses we perform in class come into play. White Teeth treats genes with more consistency than the theme of teeth through the first half of the book; they are most often represented as something to struggle against and are perhaps analogous to fate or chance. For example, the entire opening of Irie’s section of the book is about her struggle against her appearance, which she inherited from her mother’s ancestry (221). Clara (described as being tall and thin in the second chapter of the book) did not pass her figure to Irie, to put it kindly. Irie is a heavy young woman who more resembles her grandmother and Jamaican ancestry than her parents. She also attempts to change her hair; she desires it to be straight, and ends up losing it as a result of her desperation to change her appearance. This appears to be a continuation of Clara’s struggle against her own genes and the unpopularity that they caused in her days as a schoolgirl. This theme is present elsewhere in the book as well, with the most notable example being in reference to the skin condition which afflicted Ali (Mickey’s father) and his brothers (204)
Another example of genes playing the role of chance is mentioned on page 136, where the chapter begins with:
“And the sins of the Eastern father will be visited upon the Western sons. Often taking their time, stored up in the genes like baldness or testicular carcinoma, but sometimes on the very same day.”
Genes seem to be the tools of higher powers in this passage, used to perform the task of meting out punishment. This passage and the references to genes in general fit well with the class discussions on the role of chance in literature and its use by authors as a way to explain events in their novels.