by Zadie Smith
White Teeth Identity Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Chapter.Paragraph)
I AM NOT A WAITER. I HAVE BEEN A STUDENT, A SCIENTIST, A SOLDIER, MY WIFE IS CALLED ALSANA, WE LIVE IN EAST LONDON BUT WE WOULD LIKE TO MOVE NORTH. I AM A MUSLIM BUT ALLAH HAS FORSAKEN ME OR I HAVE FORSAKEN ALLAH, I'M NOT SURE. I HAVE A FRIEND—ARCHIE—AND OTHERS. I AM FORTY-NINE BUT WOMEN STILL TURN IN THE STREET. SOMETIMES. (3.81)
Samad struggles with how he sees himself. He is constantly looking at himself through society's eyes; he's actually a lot like Irie in this way. Here, he imagines wearing this description of himself around his neck for everyone at the restaurant to see so that his complex identity does not get swallowed by a far simpler one: waiter.
"Well, well. That's something, isn't it?" said Archie, placing his hands behind his head and lying back to look at the stars. "To have a bit of history in your blood like that. Motivates you, I'd imagine. I'm a Jones, you see. 'Slike a 'Smith.' We're nobody... My father used to say: 'We're the chaff, boy, we're the chaff.' Not that I've ever been much bothered, mind. Proud all the same, you know. Good honest English stock. But in your family you had a hero!" (5.129)
Archie seems perfectly happy to be the "chaff." He has a privileged position as a white Englishman that allows him to feel just fine about being a Jones, or a Smith.
"You don't stand for anything, Jones," continued Samad. "Not for a faith, not for a politics. Not even for your country. How your lot ever conquered my lot is a bloody mystery. You're a cipher, no?"
"And an idiot. What are you going to tell your children when they ask who you are, what you are? Will you know? Will you ever know?"
"What are you that's so bloody fantastic?"
"I'm a Muslim and a Man and a Son and a Believer. I will survive the last days." (5.335-339)
Archie might not be as insignificant or idiotic as Samad says he is in this moment. But Archie is clearly not as concerned about his identity as Samad is about his. Why is it so easy for Archie to just not worry about who he is?