Table of Contents
2. Mangal Pande and the Revolt of 18
3. The Relevance of Mangal Pande in Samad's life
4. The perception of Mangal Pande by Other Characters in Smith's Novel
5. What's the Importance of this Character? Why is He Important to Samad?
Zadie Smith's debut novel White Teeth, first published in 2000, is set in the Willesden Green area, North West London, between 1974 and 1999 and presents three families: the British-Jamaican Joneses, the Bangladeshi Muslim Iqbals and the Jewish-Catholic/atheist Chalfens around which the plot revolves. Smith thus creates a multifaceted portrait of a contemporary diverse and multicultural environment. Through the eyes of an authorial third-person narrator, the reader follows the group of families as they quest for cultural identity and assimilation in a post-colonial British society. Above all, the novel tends to show "how the native and immigrant populations collide"1 and "that racial mixing has become deeply embedded and rooted in the society."2
The Jones family consists of the Englishman Archibald, his Anglo-Caribbean wife Clara (less than half his age) and their daughter Irie. The novel follows the friendship of the Jones and Iqbal families, once opened with the relation between Archie and Samad Miah during their army service in the Second World War. In contrast to Archibald Jones, Samad Miah Iqbal immigrated with his wife Alsana from Bangladesh to London. There, their twin sons Magid and Millat are born and because of the close friendship between the two families the twins have more or less grown up with Irie. Via Joshua, who attends school with the Jones and the Iqbal children, the two families come in contact with his family, the Chalfens. Consequently, in the end all characters' lives interlink in various ways, beside the fact they all live in the same neighbourhood, because Zadie Smith spins a complex web of relations between the characters.
The main goal of this paper should be an in depth look at the character of the Muslim waiter Samad Iqbal and his fixation upon his antecedent Mangal Pande who allegedly started a revolutionary uprising in India in 1857 and was therefore executed by the British colonial rule. The initial analysis of the topic allowed the perception of an insufficient material concerning the scholarly treatment of Pande's function in White Teeth. Therefore, his representation through the characters perceptions and his role in the novel will be analysed.
The initial point of such research refers to key elements of motifs and narrative structure Smith's; namely an issue of belonging and integration, the significance of (both personal and collective) history and one's roots.
At first, the clear historical background, just as the role and significance of objective history, i.e. historic facts, would be analysed. Subsequently, I will discuss the role Mangal Pande plays in Samad's life and the significance history plays for him. Following this discussion, I will try to answer the question how other characters think and feel about Mangal Pande. In a concluding chapter, I will try to determine what the importance of this 'factual' predecessor to Samad is and discuss the importance of history, family backgrounds and cultural legacies for immigrants who are stuck in a crisis of identity in their new 'homeland.'
2. Mangal Pande and the Revolt of 1857
Zadie Smith introduces the character of Mangal Pande in the fifth chapter of White Teeth ('The Root Canals of Archibald Jones and Samad Miah Iqbal'). In this chapter, the first flashback to history, we are given details on how Archie and Samad first meet and how their friendship develops. It was during the Second World War while serving on an English army tank together on a mission through Eastern Europe, that the name Mangal Pande initially comes up. Samad who worked as the radio operator on the mission tells Archie and their comrades the story of his great-grandfather:
My great-grandfather Mangal Pande [...] was the great hero of the Indian Mutiny! [...] Of 1857! It was he who shot the first hateful pigfat-smeared bullet [...] (WT 87)
Who exactly was the Mangal Pande and what would be his role in history in the first place?3 In history books the term Indian Mutiny describes "[t]he uprising in Northern India which terminated the existence of the East India Company" and "almost put an end to British rule in India."4 The mutiny here, which is also known as the Indian Rebellion of 1857, India's First War of Independence, the Great Rebellion, the Revolt of 1857, and the Sepoy Mutiny, was the most severe of the many rebellions and resistance movements against British rule in India.5 It broke out first among the discontented Indian sepoys6 of the East India Company's army and was soon followed by rebellions of dispossessed feudal chiefs and aristocrats, and also of the common masses. Although the revolt, which engulfed northern and central India, was suppressed by a superior English military, it nevertheless has been interpreted "as the beginning of the struggle for independence."7
The starting signal of the revolt has been attributed to an Indian sepoy named Mangal Pande; even though a combination of political, economic and socio-religious causes have led to the uprising of the discontented sepoys.8 He is said to have initiated the events that led to the revolt whose actual starting point was on May 10th 1857 in Meerut, near Delhi, on March 29th 1857. Pande, who served in the 34th Regiment of the Bengal Native Infantry of the English East India Company at Barrackpore9, refused to use the cartridges that had to be utilised along with a new rifle. This rifle, of more rapid fire, called the Enfield, had been introduced for the first time in the Indian army and its cartridges had a greased cover which was to be bitten off in order to load the cartridge into the rifle. He (as well as his fellow Hindu and Muslim soldiers) took the cartridges greased with cow and pig fat as an insult to his religious sentiments and decided not to accept such cartridges for that purpose. Mangal Pande, "[t]he first to openly brandish the flag of revolt"10, refused to use the Enfield rifle and attempted to trigger a mutiny by attacking his English sergeant.11 Although he was not followed by his comrades and promptly overpowered, tried and hanged, Pande is to be understood as the person who incited his fellow Indian soldiers in the East India Company's army that rebelled against the British in 1857.
Thus, Smith incorporates a historically authentic character into her novel.
1 Walters, 315.
2 Ibid. 316.
3 The name Pande appears in various publications also as Pandey.
4 The British East India Company was an English company formed on 12 December 1600 to develop trade with the new British colonies in India and south-eastern Asia. In the 18th century it assumed administrative control of Bengal and held it until the British army took over in 1858 after the Indian Mutiny. Kulke/Rothermund, 236.
5 see Markovitz, 282.
6 The Indian soldiers of the East India Company's army were known as sepoys.
7 Markovitz, 283.
9 The site of the first major military base of the British East India Company, 23 km from Calcutta.
10 Markovits, 284.