by Zadie Smith
White Teeth Theme of Society and Class
England is known for its class structure. Downton Abbey, anyone? The Iqbals and the Joneses are working-class families. Some of these characters seem content with that, and others seem to want more. When Irie, Millat, and Magid come into contact with a middle-class family (yep, the Chalfens), we see more clearly some of the differences that define families of different social statuses or classes. But we also see that families are just families. The Chalfens, the Iqbals, and the Joneses all struggle with intergenerational and cultural conflicts. And, at the conclusion of the novel, they all end up in the same place. Literally.
Questions About Society and Class
- Why do Archie and Clara seem so much more content with their social position than Samad and Alsana?
- What's different about the Chalfens', the Iqbals', and the Joneses' family lives? How much of those differences are due to their differing social positions?
- In White Teeth, what does it mean to be working class? Middle class? How can we identify members of these social groups?
- Why is Irie so taken with the Chalfens and their middle-class lifestyle? What does she get from them that she doesn't get at home?
Chew on This
The action in White Teeth starts moving in a noticeably different direction after Irie and Millat start spending time at the Chalfens' house—and the Chalfens' middle-class lifestyle has more than a little to do with this dramatic turn.
In White Teeth, class does more to define the characters' roles in society than race does.