Study Guide

White Teeth Chapter 15

By Zadie Smith

Chapter 15

Chalfenism Versus Bowdenism

  • Irie hasn't seen her grandmother in six years, and Hortense certainly looks older, but Irie feels a sense of familiarity when she walks in.
  • Hortense rubs bay rum all over Irie's face to cure Irie's fever, a remedy more painful than the malady itself. Hortense 1, Irie 0.
  • Hortense is super happy that Irie has come back because she thinks it means she's come back to God. Irie tells her that this is not at all true.
  • Irie's grandmother talks about how black and white were never meant to mix; she says nothing good can come of it. Um, that's kind of offensive.
  • Irie has to sleep on the sofa because apparently, her grandma is totally living with this dude, Ryan Topps, since Irie's grandfather died. Irie's imagination immediately runs away, but Hortense assures Irie that Mr. Topps is very proper. He's never been married… except to the church.
  • When Irie meets Ryan, Hortense introduces her to him as Clara's daughter. She then whispers that Irie might have been his. Scandalous.
  • Not surprised by Hortense's aside, Irie just adds it to the list of incomplete stories her family tells, or doesn't tell. It's like, what's a girl to do?
  • Ryan strangely tells Irie that any memory he has of her mother has disappeared.
  • Irie and Ryan talk for a bit, and she thinks Ryan is weird. Her grandmother conveniently says that the chosen ones always seem weird to the heathens. Ah, everything makes sense now.
  • The narrative jumps to a phone conversation and yet another mother-daughter fight. Clara is threatening her mother against filling Irie's head with ridiculousness about the second coming. Irie picks up and tells Clara that she is not coming home so not to worry about her.
  • But if Clara's atheism is fragile, Irie's is not. Hortense and Ryan mostly just amuse her.
  • Hortense, on the other hand, lives constantly on the edge of annihilation and always in the realm of seriousness. The world is always about to end.
  • Revelation, the narrator tells us, is where the crazy people end up. And Bowdenism—Hortense's particular branch of crazy—is part Jehovah's Witnesses, part Revelation, and 100% nutso.
  • After a few weeks of just hanging out in the crazy house, Irie starts going back to school.
  • In her grandmother's house, Irie uncovers artifacts of the Bowden family secrets, mostly in the form of photographs
  • In the spring, Irie hears Joyce Chalfen on the radio talking on Gardeners' Question Time. She switches Joyce off, which feels therapeutic to her. Irie would probably like an off switch in real life too.
  • One day Joshua Chalfen shows up at the door yelling about how he's sick of his family. He says they go on about rights and freedoms but then they eat fifty chickens every week. Hang on, he'll explain.
  • He goes on and on, and he also hands Irie a leaflet from the FATE organization (Fighting Animal Torture and Exploitation) about the facts of eating meat.
  • Josh explains how his organization comes from an academic and anarchist perspective.
  • Much like Irie, Josh is planning on running off for a while and missing some school. He's going to Glastonbury with Joely and Crispin, the founders of FATE.
  • Joshua has decided that his father and FutureMouse are insane and plans to fight Marcus's extremism with a version of his own.
  • On April Fool's Day, Samad shows up at Hortense's house to see Irie. No, it's not a joke. He asks Irie if she has seen his good-for-nothing son (gee, why would Millat avoid his father?) and then breaks down crying before she can reply.
  • Running away seems to be the new big thing. Millat, it turns out, has been missing for three weeks, but Samad actually knows where he is. He is on a retreat with KEVIN.
  • Samad is also distressed that Magid is coming back to England to study the law instead of focusing on God's laws. It doesn't help that the Chalfens are paying for his return.
  • Pretty much nothing is going Samad's way. The son Samad sent home is about to return to England a proper Englishman, and the son he kept in England is a Muslim fundamentalist.
  • Hortense and Ryan come home that evening very excited; Hortense is waiting for news from a Mr. Charles Wintry in Brooklyn.
  • While Ryan is waiting on hold to talk to Mr. Wintry, Hortense tells Irie that she wants to be part of the 144,000 people to ascend to the kingdom of heaven at the end of the world.
  • Ryan comes back with the news that God never intended for a third millennium, and Hortense is thrilled that she will live to see the end. People are not usually quite so pumped for the end of the world. Except maybe REM.
  • Irie and Hortense agree to go to Jamaica for the year 2000.