Study Guide

White Teeth Chapter 13

By Zadie Smith

Chapter 13

The Root Canals of Hortense Bowden

  • According to Alsana, even a little English education is a bad thing. She says that the English are the only people who try to steal from you and teach you at the same time. Oh, colonialism.
  • Clara agrees with Alsana, and launches into a personal story to provide some proof.
  • Clara's grandmother, Ambrosia, is educated by one Captain Charlie Durham in more ways than one, if you know what we mean. He ends up impregnating Ambrosia with Clara's mother, Hortense.
  • Eventually Ambrosia studies with a Christian lady named Mrs. Brenton, who introduces her to the Jehovah's Witnesses.
  • Ambrosia and her unborn child are easy converts because they have no religion, and they are in a bad place.
  • The narrator tells us that Hortense's story must go back to the beginning since she remembers the very beginning. She says she remembers being in the womb; we have no comment.
  • The day she was born, January 14, 1907, is as clear in her memory as anything else, and so that's where her story begins.
  • Ambrosia is walking along, nine months pregnant, when she encounters Glenard. He begins to grope her. Then, just as the Kingston earthquake begins, Ambrosia's water breaks.
  • When a falling stone angel crushes Glenard instead of saving him, it's hard to be too upset.
  • Then Captain Durham returns the following day to see Kingston destroyed and realizes that he might never see Ambrosia again. He also realizes what love means. Nice timing.
  • Durham wants to take Ambrosia with him to Cuba. But, since he never even asked her what her last name is, he is unable to find her.
  • Finally, Durham remembers where Ambrosia's family lives and sends a note to her with her little cousin Marlene.
  • Marlene returns with a line that Ambrosia has torn from the Bible, from Job: I will fetch my knowledge from afar.
  • The chapter neatly ends with the same idea it began with: a little English education can be a dangerous thing.