LITR 5831 World / Multicultural Literature

Film / Video Highlights

Film / video highlight: White Teeth, part one (tape or DVD available from instructor): Masterpiece Theater site

Presenter: Jan Smith

White Teeth

Zadie Smith


On New Year's Day 1975, an Englishman named Archie Jones, a 47-year-old man whose disturbed Italian wife has just walked out on him, is attempting to commit suicide by gassing himself in his car when a chance interruption causes him to change his mind. Filled with a fresh enthusiasm for life, Archie flips a coin and then finds his way into the aftermath of a New Year's Eve party. There he meets the much-younger Clara Bowden, a Jamaican woman whose mother, Hortense, is a devout Jehovah's Witness. Clara had been interested in the unattractive, antisocial Ryan Topps, but their relationship falls apart after Ryan becomes a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Archie and Clara are soon married and have a daughter, Irie, who grows up to be intelligent but with low self-confidence.

Also living in Willesden, North-West London, is Archie's best friend Samad Iqbal, a Bengali Muslim from Bangladesh; the two men spend much of their time at the O'Connell's pub. Archie and Samad met in 1945 when they were part of a tank crew inching through Europe in the final days of World War II, though they missed out on the action. Following the war, Samad immigrated to Britain and married Alsana Iqbal, née Begum, in a traditional arranged marriage. Samad is a downtrodden waiter in a West End curry house, and is obsessed by the history of his great-grandfather, Mangal Pandey, who allegedly fired the first shot of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (and missed).

Primary Objectives

1b. To extend the colonial-postcolonial transition to a contemporary third wave of transnational migration. Alternative terms: post-national, post-race, post-modern.

                                                                                Secondary Objectives

6. To develop environmental thinking: demographics, population dynamics (esp. Demographic Transition), immigration, climate change, and other global environmental issues often occur in terms of developed and undeveloped nations, or modernization.

+ issues of "space & place": Compared to traditional cultures of the “Third World,” modern cultures of “global culture” or the “First World” usually have little attachment to particular places. Sense of “place” or “rootedness” gives way to abstract space: modern airports, hotels, or malls.

Clips For Viewing

·         Clara on the stairs at the party (meeting Archie)  missing teeth

How is the meeting/love affair between Clara and Archie representative of transnational migration?

·         Sumad in the restaurant in red jacket

What are the implications of the words, “…too much history”  ?


·         Sumad on the phone in the restaurant

How is Sumad’s tension reflective of the transmigration experience?

1.       Marital tension

2.       Religious tension

3.       Sexual tension

4.       Parenting tension

5.       Social tension


·         Driving in the car with the children in the end

Is it too simplistic to say that the characters are caught in assimilation thus making the conundrums they face more complicated? Is this statement more applicable to some characters and not to others? Is it just an excuse for bad behavior?

In what ways do we see the accommodation of culture sway the main characters in making decisions?