Study Guide

White Teeth Chapter 3

By Zadie Smith

Chapter 3

Two Families

  • Clara finds herself debating whether or not she should marry Archie Jones. Because he's a heathen and all.
  • Hortense, Clara's mother, is very strongly opposed to the whole relationship on the grounds of his skin color, actually. She's not as concerned about the religion bit.
  • Clara eventually decides that it is better to marry Archie than to live in sin by sleeping with him and not marrying him. Interesting logic, don'tchya think? So she marries him and begs him to take her as far away from Lambeth as possible.
  • As far as possible turns out to be Willesden Green—a town within walking distance from Lambeth. But Archie doesn't tell her this right away.
  • Three months after they are married, they move into their new house. It's nice, but not as nice as Clara had hoped. Are you noticing a pattern here?
  • She looks the place over and thinks that it's pretty good considering she hasn't even paid a high price for it. Just love. Clara does not love Archie, but she decided to devote herself to him when she met him on the steps as long as he could take her away. (And this counts as "away," sadly.)
  • Love seems like a pretty high price to us, but Clara seems cool with her decisions for the moment.
  • Clara understands that Archie is simply not capable of romance. It just isn't in him. It takes him all of a month before he seems to be looking right through her, and he starts spending a lot of time with Samad Iqbal.
  • When Clara asks him why, he says that they go way back.
  • So, yeah, we get it: Archie is not romantic, exciting, or young. But he is a good man. Sigh. This is no zany romcom, Shmoopers.
  • To boot, as the two are moving boxes into their new house, Clara notices all sorts of undesirable physical attributes in Archie that she hadn't noticed before. Can you imagine marrying someone and then being like, "Oh, look, what a crazy unibrow you have, hubs. Huh. Never noticed that before"…?
  • Clara remembers their wedding day, and not so fondly at that. They got married in a very crowded registry office on Ludgate Hill. It was very hot for February, and Archie was sweating. Clara thinks how strange a match they must have looked to the registrar. Archie is a forty-seven-year-old, light-skinned Englishman and Clara is a 19-year-old, dark-skinned Jamaican.
  • The only people there to honor the marriage were Samad and Alsana. But Archie did receive a letter from his old pal Horst Ibelgaufts, who seemed to know about the marriage without Archie having told him. This guy is always popping up at the weirdest times—it's creepy.
  • The last memory Clara has of her wedding day is how she spent the first three hours of her married life in the Cheapside Police Station watching her new husband argue a parking ticket. What a life. Archie is a good example of what not to do when it comes to romance.
  • Back to move-in day. Now, Archie is refusing to let Clara help with any lifting even though she's stronger than he is. Yet another installment in what not to do in your first year of marriage
  • He also informs her that the Iqbals are coming over that night.
  • Then they fight about Clara's clothes and a coat-stand, but really they're fighting about how Archie can never make a decision. He flips a coin to settle things.
  • Clara says she can make a curry if the Iqbals are coming over, but it will be her kind of curry instead of theirs. Archie gets offended by this and says that they are not those kind of Indians.
  • In fact, Samad and Alsana Iqbal are not Indians of any kind. They are Bangladeshi.
  • The Iqbals live four blocks from the Joneses on the "wrong side" of Willesden High Road. Alsana has been working as a seamstress and Samad has been working as a waiter.
  • Samad doesn't make much in tips, and, while at work, he feels as though he should wear a sign that says that he is not a waiter but is, in fact, all sorts of other things. Check out the list. It gives you a pretty good sense of how Samad must feel. Hint: he feels like shouting at everyone in all capital letters.
  • Back on the Tuesday after Archie's wedding (man, this novel jumps around a lot), Samad asks Ardashir for a raise. Ardashir says that he can't possibly give Samad a raise, and blabs about how everyone is asking for more money.
  • But Samad isn't listening. He's thinking about how he has to go back and explain things to Alsana, who should be easygoing because she is young. But anyone who has ever been a teenager should know that teenagers are rarely easy.
  • That night, he and Alsana get into a terrible fight. She ends up tearing off all of her clothes in the kitchen and asking Samad if they are edible, since they can no longer afford food. Alsana can really throw down. She is not a woman we'd want to fight with.
  • She ends the fight by throwing on a long coat and leaving the house.
  • While she's walking, she thinks that they have moved to a nicer area where the child will be better off, even if she has trouble admitting that to Samad. Survival is the name of the game.
  • When she gets to Crazy Shoes, where her niece Neena works, she goes in. Neena tells her that she looks terrible. Hey, what is family good for, if not pointed insults?
  • We learn that most of the time, Alsana does not call Neena by her real name. Instead, she calls her "Niece-of-Shame." Again: that's family for you. Also, Alsana is only two years older than Neena, so she doesn't like it when Neena calls her auntie.
  • Want some more details? Alsana has weirdly huge feet, considering that she is a small girl.
  • Right. So, Alsana continues on her walk. She sees a white van wide open and envies the furniture that's piled up in it.
  • Then she recognizes the black woman who is leaning against the fence. She's appalled that the woman is half-dressed… For a woman walking around naked with a coat on like a streaker, this moment of being a Judge-y Nancy is a tad unfair. As Aslana is about to walk the other way, the woman recognizes her. Who's that girl? It's Clara.
  • Clara tells Alsana that she and Archie were just talking about how the Iqbals were coming to dinner that night. Alsana thinks to herself that black people are often friendly. Um, okay?
  • Alsana reveals to Clara that she is pregnant, and they marvel at the fact that their husbands don't tell each other anything.
  • But then they simultaneously realize that their husbands tell each other everything. It's them—their wives—whom they tell nothing.