Zadie Smith: White Teeth and Multiculturalism
Zadie Smith, having a Jamaican mother and an English father, just wanted to write a funny book in which not everybody is white, she did not think much about multiculturalism in London because it is nothing to talk about, it is normal. However, the book became one of the best novels dealing with multiculturalism.
A multicultural society consists of two or more different cultures which are different in language, religion, traditions and their systems of values. Britain and especially London became multicultural mainly by immigrants who left their countries mostly for political, demographic or economical reasons in the search for freedom and a better standard of living. Some so-called push-factors are political suppression, bad working conditions or natural disasters. Pull-factors are religious and political freedom and better jobs and chances to learn some money, for example.
Britain itself encouraged people from overpopulated and underemployed Commonwealth countries to immigrate because it needed cheap workers to staff the semi-skilled and non-skilled vacancies and to rebuild the war-shattered economy. Most of the immigrants worked in the National Health Service, public transport or in the manufacturing service. Many of them got only low-paid manual jobs and became victims of discriminatory practices. These immigrants started the transformation of Britain and especially of London into a multicultural society.
White Teeth is the story of three families from three different cultural backgrounds, the English-Jamaican Jones, the Bangladeshi Iqbals and the Jewish Chalfens, told mainly between 1974 and 1992, set in Willesden, a multicultural suburb in North London, where Zadie Smith herself lives.
The novel is told in the tones and structures of Jamaican and Bangladeshi English which makes the novel even more lively.
Three different cultures are presented in White Teeth which will be examined in this essay. Their relation to each other represents Zadie Smith’s view of multiculturalism
2. White culture
a) Archie Jones
The English worker Archie Jones, 47, is one of the main characters in the novel. He has a job in a printing firm where “he designs the way all things should be folded” and belongs therefore to the working class. He was born in Brighton and has been married for 30 years to the Italian Orphelia Diagilo who got crazy and left him. He is humble, lacks ambition and egotism and has no real joy of life. Archie is shy, has no friends and decides problems by flipping a 20-pence coin.
b) The Chalfen Family
The Chalfen family consists of third generation immigrants from Eastern Europe, they are Jewish and have four children. Joyce, the mother, is a Catholic feminist horticulturist, arrogant, has many prejudices and is always bored although she pretends to have a perfect marriage and perfect children. Her family was against her “Israelite love-match”. Marcus, the father of the family, is a scientist and geneticist. The family represents the White middle class, they are wealthy, educated and try to assimilate as much as possible. They have therefore changed their name “Chalfenovsky” into “Chalfen” and want to be as English as possible. The family has no friends, they need only themselves and their small family is a kind of community for them.
The white culture is presented by very unnormal characters. Archie is an outsider who has no friends although for him, as a white, it could be easier to find friends and to get in contact with other white people, not only with immigrants. He is no caring father and he is not interested in his family life. His friendship to Samad is the most important thing in his life. He is weak and tries to commit suicide after his Italian wife has left him. His life depends too much on other persons and on the flipping of a 20-pence coin. His marriage to Clara is a kind of new start but does not really change his life a lot. As a member of the working class, he has always financial problems. He is a kind of anti-hero because he wants to commit suicide at the beginning of the novel and he is the hero at the end because he rescues the mouse and gives her the possibility to live in freedom.
 Cf. http://www.uni-duisburg.de/FB1/PHILO/Unterricht/kapitel2/2-mul/l… (19/11/01).
 cf. Tariq Modood, Richard Berthoud, Ethnic Minorities in Britain. Diversity and Disadvantage (London: PSI Policy Studies Institute, 1997), p. 83.
 Cf. http
 cf. Ibid.
 Cf. Ibid.
 cf. Ibid., p. 82.
 Cf. Ibid., p. 84.
 Zadie Smith, White Teeth (London: Penguin Books, 2000) p. 15.
 Ibid., p. 314.