Study Guide

White Teeth Chapter 11

By Zadie Smith

Chapter 11

The Miseducation of Irie Jones

  • Irie starts to focus on a lamppost with an ad reading: LOSE WEIGHT TO EARN MONEY.
  • At age 15, Irie is big; she weighs thirteen stone—about one hundred and eighty-two pounds. And she is always trying to cover or hide her stomach and her backside… with her arms, with sweaters, and with lycra. (Ah, the eighties.)
  • The narrator says that Irie is obsessed. Her English teacher even catches her drawing "before" and "after" sketches of herself in the middle of a discussion of Sonnet 127.
  • Irie also watches Millat in class. He flirts with a pretty girl, and the narrator tells us that Millat was as "big" (cool, important, powerful…) in the summer of 1990 as he would ever be. Basically, he peaked early. Poor guy.
  • But even being popular is hard. Millat is constantly angry and hurt because, while he seems to fit in everywhere, he doesn't feel as though he belongs anywhere. We hear you, bro.
  • Of course, this outsiderness only makes him more attractive to girls; they are constantly trying to save Millat from himself. (Picture every cute outcast-y boy with a guitar ever.)
  • Millat tells Irie that she's different than all the other girls because they have history together.
  • Millat gets kicked out of class, and Irie gets called on to say something about the sonnet after staring longingly where Millat has gone. She's got it bad. She asks if the "dark lady" in the sonnet they're reading is black. Irie has some evidence to back up her theory, but her teacher dismisses the idea.
  • Now totally intent on changing herself, Irie goes to P. K.'s Afro Hair: Design and Management with her hair all hidden in a scarf. She wants her hair straight and dark red. But the stylists tell her that she has to not wash her hair for two weeks or the ammonia will cause serious pain.
  • Irie decides to plow ahead anyway because she wants to impress Millat so badly. Eek.
  • Like during a game of telephone, communication in the salon is not good, and the stylist who applies the ammonia to Irie's head doesn't know her hair was clean. So if you're wondering how Irie feels at this point, picture a cartoon character with flames coming out of her head.
  • More hair debacles ensue before Irie finally gets the 'do she's after.
  • She goes to see Millat, but he's not home. Neena and her girlfriend are there instead. They think Irie's new hair looks terrible and that her old hair was beautiful. When they touch Irie's hair, it starts coming out in huge clumps. Gross.
  • In the kitchen, Irie talks to Samad and Alsana. Samad is whining again because both his sons are disappointing him. Samad and Alsana get into the usual fight over Magid. Samad says that he didn't send his son back home to be poisoned by England-worshiping people (sweet irony), and Alsana, looking all reasonable, says that Magid is second-generation, born in England. Naturally, he will do things differently.
  • The school Irie and Millat attend is Glenard Oak. It's extremely diverse. The narrator tells us that it's home to sixty-seven different faiths and one hundred and twenty-three different languages.
  • And despite sincere efforts to get all the students on the same page, Glenard Oak is pretty segregated. There are different student factions who have their own special hangout areas. For instance, the space between the garbage bins and the craft department is an area to avoid. We just think avoiding the garbage bins is common sense.
  • There is also an area where kids who are too young to smoke (under sixteen) hide from teachers, but the kids who are over sixteen are allowed to smoke in the smoker's garden… We're pretty sure there aren't many smoker's gardens at schools these days.
  • Right now, Irie is looking for Millat, and it's urgent. She is trying to save him (yes, again) from the secret raid meant to catch students smoking weed or tobacco illegally.
  • She is completely unsurprised to find him smoking a joint, and he is too busy talking to a boy named Hifan to listen to her.
  • Millat and Hifan used to cause trouble together in Kilburn, but now Hifan is trying to recruit Millat to join Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation, which, as Irie points out, hilariously becomes KEVIN in its acronym form.
  • Millat ends up walking away and leaving Irie holding his joint. This is like watching a train wreck. Of course, the raid committee comes up on her from both sides.
  • Irie Jones, Millat Iqbal, and his friend, Joshua Chalfen, are thus caught in the act of smoking marijuana. Millat fesses up to the headmaster: the marijuana was his, and Irie, in a hurry, agrees that the drugs were Millat's and says that she accidentally smoked the joint. And she totally didn't inhale.
  • Josh interrupts Irie to tell the headmaster that some of the marijuana was his, and that he was dealing it. What? He does this because he has been way more popular since he got busted than ever before. Oy vey. To prove that Josh had nothing to do with it, Millat challenges him to measure out an eighth, and Josh fails miserably.
  • The headmaster decides that, by way of punishment, every Tuesday and Thursday, Millat and Irie will go to Josh's house for a two-hour study group, which will focus on math and biology. Josh is a rockstar in these subjects and Irie and Millat can't even sing backup.
  • With that whole pot-smokin' episode behind us, we now read about the history of Glenard Oak School, and, in particular, Sir Edmond Flecker Glenard, whom the school considered its benefactor. Glenard made a fortune in Jamaica farming tobacco.
  • Then we're back to the headmaster, who tells Irie that she'll just have to live with the study group. He's psyched about his own plan because the headmaster thinks it might be the beginning of a program that could bring together minority or disadvantaged children and middle-class white folks. Sigh.