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by Zadie Smith
White Teeth Chapter 13 Summary
The Root Canals of Hortense Bowden According to Alsana, even a little English education is a bad thing. She says that the English are the only people who try to steal from you and teach you at the same time. Oh, colonialism. Clara agrees with Alsana, and launches into a personal story to provide some proof. Clara's grandmother, Ambrosia, is educated by one Captain Charlie Durham in more ways than one, if you know what we mean. He ends up impregnating Ambrosia with Clara's mother, Hortense. Eventually Ambrosia studies with a Christian lady named Mrs. Brenton, who introduces her to the Jehovah's Witnesses. Ambrosia and her unborn child are easy converts because they have no religion, and they are in a bad place. The narrator tells us that Hortense's story must go back to the beginning since she remembers the very beginning. She says she remembers being in the womb; we have no comment. The day she was born, January 14, 1907, is as clear in her memory as anything else, and so that's where her story begins. Ambrosia is walking along, nine months pregnant, when she encounters Glenard. He begins to grope her. Then, just as the Kingston earthquake begins, Ambrosia's water breaks. When a falling stone angel crushes Glenard instead of saving him, it's hard to be too upset. Then Captain Durham returns the following day to see Kingston destroyed and realizes that he might never see Ambrosia again. He also realizes what love means. Nice timing. Durham wants to take Ambrosia with him to Cuba. But, since he never even asked her what her last name is, he is unable to find her. Finally, Durham remembers where Ambrosia's family lives and sends a note to her with her little cousin Marlene. Marlene returns with a line that Ambrosia has torn from the Bible, from Job: I will fetch my knowledge from afar. The chapter neatly ends with the same idea it began with: a little English education can be a dangerous thing.
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