The Probability of Blue Eyes
While reading White Teeth, I was completely stunned by Archie’s reaction to his wife Clara’s pregnancy. His thrilled attitude was completely expected and welcomed, but it is when she mentions that their baby (as a half black and half white child) that “anything could happen” (57). Clara mentions in passing that it “might be blue-eyed” and Archie elatedly grabs on to this idea. He is shocked and pleased that “any piece of him slugging it out in the gene pool with a piece of Clara” could WIN (57). He then goes on to tell his co-workers that the baby is blue eyed – which clearly he has no way of knowing before the birth of the baby. The fact that a small “white” trait could last in the gene pool makes Archie thrilled.
The strange culture that Zadie Smith represents in White Teeth is very much so built around racial culture. The characters’ pasts are built upon their skin color, and although Archie marries a black Jamaican girl he is severely judged for doing so. His family and friends refuse (except for two) to attend their wedding, and he is left out of social functions at work because of his wife’s race. The secretary pages the boss speaking about Archie and says “Yes, Mr. Hero, he’s right here, he’s just found out he’s going to be a daddy… yes, it’ll have blue eyes, apparently… yes, that’s what I said, something to do with genes, I suppose…” (59).
These few passages tell us a few things about the culture in England in 1974. First, that interracial couples were not the norm, or very socially accepted. Secondly, that education about genetics was low, as people seem to believe that you can tell a child’s eye color before birth. And third, that Aryan traits were desired in this day and age. Although Archie has no qualms about marrying Clara, he does have qualms about passing on his genes to a child that looks nothing like him. Granted, most parents want their children to possess some of their traits. You may call it narcissistic, but it is common to hear “Oh, he has his mother’s eyes!” about a newborn. The assumption that Clara’s dark skin, eyes, and hair would have dominant traits is not incorrect, but it is incorrect for people to assume that she does not possess some recessive ones too. Maybe it is because it is 1975, but people in this part of the book do not seem to be educated on genetics or how it works.
Zadie Smith is likely trying to point out the racism as well as the ignorance. I feel that she does a wonderful job here of portraying how these specific characters would react both culturally and personally to a situation such as this.