Study Guide

White Teeth FutureMouse

By Zadie Smith


A Man and His Mouse

It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's FutureMouse! Marcus Chalfen's pet project—haha, we're funny—is this DNA-altered mouse, which somehow ends up bringing all of the novel's main characters together in the end.

Marcus Chalfen is invested in the elimination of randomness, and the FutureMouse is the culmination of much of his research. The press release describes Marcus's FutureMouse in this way:

The FutureMouse © experiment offers the public a unique opportunity to see a life and death in "close-up." The opportunity to witness for themselves a technology that might yet slow the progress of disease, control the process of aging, and eliminate genetic defect. The FutureMouse © 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)

Seen through Marcus's eyes, the FutureMouse is a symbol of the power of the intellect and its ability to triumph over randomness. For him, it symbolizes strength and independence. But not everyone sees FutureMouse in the same way.

In Defense of the Mouse

Rather than experimenting on mice, Marcus's oldest son, Joshua, would rather save them. He ends up joining a radical, political animal rights organization called FATE (Fighting Animal Torture and Exploitation). Joely and Crispin, a couple, run the organization:

He's a Dadaist. And she's an anarchist. A real one. Not like Marcus. I told her about Marcus and his bloody FutureMouse. She thinks he's a dangerous individual. Quite possibly psychopathic. (15.165)

Joshua goes looking for away to rebel against his father, and he finds it in FATE.

To FATE, the FutureMouse is a dangerous (possibly psychopathic) example of people forgetting that they, too, are just animals, and that no life should be spent on torture… even scientific torture.

All God's Creatures

FATE wants to save the FutureMouse for the sake of the mouse and animals in general. Meanwhile, KEVIN (Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation) and the Lambeth Hall Jehovah's Witnesses decide to protest FutureMouse because they see Marcus's genetic tinkering as playing God.

Marcus is Magid's mentor, and Magid is very much invested in the FutureMouse project. Millat is a member of KEVIN, so their conversation about it goes like this:

I see it rather as correcting the Creator's mistakes.

The Creator doesn't make mistakes. (17.215-216) 

If FutureMouse is presented as a way to fix God's mistakes, KEVIN can only see it as a sacrilege and an absolute threat. The Jehovah's Witnesses view it as meddling with God's creation as well. But they use the FutureMouse event as a platform to get their message out:

"We gwan warn all a dem!'"broke in Hortense. "And we gat it all plan out nice, see? We gwan sing hymns with Mrs. Dobson on de accordion, 'cos you kyan shif a piano all de way dere. An' we gwan hunger strike until dat hevil man stop messin' wid de Lord's beauteous creation an'—." (18.120)

Marcus sure makes a lot of enemies with FutureMouse.