When I saw the title White Teeth, I thought it was strange and didn’t really want to read a novel about teeth. While I am not enamored with the novel, I do respect the theme of teeth throughout it.

One of the most notable aspects of the novel is the merging of cultures. The abundant use of foreign-sounding names threw me off when I tried to pronounce them, so now I just look at the first 2-3 letters to figure out which character is involved. Cultures mixing and sometimes not mixing helps the novel’s storyline. The teeth theme is present throughout the novel, even in the table of contents with chapter names. It’s interesting when you think of how so many things in the novel relate to teeth, like the “root canals” chapters that usually have a very difficult and arduous plot within them.

Another aspect of the teeth theme in the novel is the fact that no matter what culture you’re from, everyone shares at least one physical trait: (usually white) teeth.

Zadie Smith ties cultures together by emphasizing things that they share, and teeth are (obviously, just look at the title) a large part of how she integrates cultures in the novel.

Now, whenever I see someone of a different culture that seems so far removed from my culture that I wouldn’t even know how to pronounce his or her name, I’ll just think about our white teeth.

-Lynne M.


~ by peacelovecake on April 19, 2010.

3 Responses to “Teeth”

  1. Yes, we all have teeth… but not everyone is fortunate as we are in having water fluoridation (only 5.7% of the world receives this service, which reduces tooth decay)! I guess we’re all different, after all.


  2. Also, I think it is important to take into consideration two things in regards to Smith’s symbolism: 1) the durability of teeth and the lack of variation 2) the internal nature of teeth.

    In regards to durability and lack of variation, I think Smith is commenting on the foundational elements of mankind. Our teeth and thus our inherent human similarities have lasted with us throughout mankind. The notion of durability also is important as it implies this connection will last and be perpetuated in the future.

    I also think it is important to note that teeth are part of our internal appearance, they are covered (most of the time) by our mouths. Therefore, the sameness and durability is masked by outward appearance, and thus the cultural environments we have adapted to. Although we are all the same, we reflect different appearances and attempt to mask our similarities.

  3. Yes! No matter how different we are, we all have characteristics that link us to the rest of humanity.

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