by Zadie Smith
Analysis: Writing Style
Try to Keep Up, Will You?
We're kidding, Shmoopters. That's what we're here for. White Teeth tells a complex story, and the writing style is diverse enough to match the story.
Have you ever seen the Toyko subway map? Well, sometimes reading White Teeth can feel like trying to get from one side of that map to the other. You might go forward; you'll probably go back; up and down aren't out of the question.
This chaos is what makes the novel interesting. Let's take a look at Chapter 9 as a kind of sample chapter. It opens with a hypothetical multiple-choice quiz that Alsana would write if she wrote for a women's magazine. The quiz helps us to see how Alsana looks at the world and why she reacts the way she does when Samad sends Magid to Bangladesh.
In the long 44th paragraph there is an explosion of words in capital letters, and the writing style shifts to show us how Millat might think or talk. Millat isn't actually talking, this is the narrator. But he could be.
The sentences are long; the language is informal. We've gone from Alsana to Millat pretty quickly. Then, out of nowhere: "Three days" (9.56). With that, the narrative gives us a look at three different days in detail.
These days are: October 15, 1987 (a list pops up in the middle of that one), January 14, 1989, and November 10, 1989. Like these "three days," there are elements of this novel that aren't exactly what we're used to when it comes to reading novels. There's a lot going on here, but it's all in good fun. So try to enjoy the ride.