Teeth: Currently More Fixable Than Genes by 100%!

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 involve the 32 white horses upon a red hill of riddle fame (first they champ, then they stamp, then they stand still), there has been little cohesiveness to the various mentions of teeth in the tale.

This is where the analyses we perform in class come into play. White Teeth treats genes with a bit more consistency through the first half of the book; they are most often represented as something to struggle against and are perhaps analogous to fate. For example, the narrator, when stating the history of O’Connell’s Poolroom, divulges the following information:

1952 Ali (Mickey’s father) and his three brothers arrive at Dover with thirty old pounds and their father’s gold pocket-watch. All suffer from disfiguring skin condition.” (204)

Obviously, I am inferring the genetic link. However, I feel that the mention does not pass lightly as genes become a major theme only a few pages later.

The entire opening of Irie’s section of the book is about her struggle against her body, caused by what appear to be genes from her mother’s side. 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.

If fate does indeed play a major part in this novel (which I believe it does after the heavy discussion on the topic of writers’ use of chance and fate) and the aforementioned genes

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~ by barrinmb on April 30, 2008.

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