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White Teeth

White Teeth


by Zadie Smith

Marcus Chalfen

Character Analysis

Marcus "the mad scientist" Chalfen's claim to fame is FutureMouse. This project involves genetically modifying a mouse's DNA so that the mouse will grow cancerous tumors at certain times, and even die at a certain time. According to his press release:

The FutureMouseĀ© holds out the tantalizing promise of a new phase in human history where we are not victims of the random but instead directors and arbitrators of our own fate. (16.79)

Sounds pretty spiffy but also kind of creepy, are we right?

Marcus's work raises objections from KEVIN (a religious organization), FATE (an animal rights organization), and the Jehovah's Witnesses. As it turns out, some characters in this novel are driven by religion, others by morals, and others by happiness. But Marcus Chalfen is driven by science.

He aims to eliminate randomness, and his genetic work with mice is an important parallel to all the genetic (and cultural) messiness of the rest of the novel. Let's just say that the laws about things tending toward randomness are pretty powerful. Marcus and all his orderly predictability do not end up taking over the world.