Study Guide

White Teeth Chapter 6

By Zadie Smith

Chapter 6

The Temptation of Samad Iqbal

  • This chapter opens in 1984. Samad has two nine-year-old children at this point.
  • He finds himself very much involved in their lives, because all kids love that. Right?
  • Samad and Alsana are at a school meeting on a Wednesday night, and Samad is embarrassing Alsana. She is trying to stop him from raising his hand to talk by using the Chinese burn on his arm. Parents can be such children.
  • Samad is asking for things that most parents in the room find totally ridiculous. Like, he says that his sons get all the exercise they need from headstands, so they should spend less time on physical activity and more on getting booksmart.
  • The school's Harvest Festival is Samad's next point of contention; he feels that if it were removed from the school calendar, there would be more space for Muslim religious events. Samad's motion to nix the Harvest Festival doesn't pass. But Poppy Burt-Jones, the music teacher, votes for it, and she stops Samad in the hall after the meeting to express her support. She points out that the Chalfens (who are intellectuals) were also behind him.
  • Poppy suggests that she and Samad get together and plan to take down the Harvest Festival at the next meeting.
  • Samad finds himself wanting the music teacher more than he has wanted any woman in a long time, but he thinks that she could not possibly be attracted to him.
  • There is also some back and forth about where Samad is from. Poppy assumes he is Indian, and he corrects her.
  • They talk about how Samad's son Magid, who is older than his twin by two minutes, is remarkably smart. Then Samad says that his second son, Millat, is a good-for-nothing. Nice.
  • Archie interrupts the conversation.
  • The three of them continue to talk, and Poppy asks Samad if he's a professor. Embarrassed, he replies that he works in a restaurant.
  • Archie gives Samad a hard time for flirting with Poppy, but Samad is not listening because he's repeating two phrases in his head, English phrases that he's learned. He hopes they will protect him from having an affair with Poppy. The two phrases are: "to the pure all things are pure," and "can't say fairer than that."
  • Then there are two-page sections with these phrases as headings.
  • Under "to the pure all things are pure," we learn that Samad's been struggling with his sex life since 1976. At that time, he went to talk to an alim at a nearby mosque about his perpetual desire to masturbate. The alim ends up telling Samad that this act is forbidden.
  • Samad continues to masturbate, but he lives with the constant fear that his is not pure and that his acts are not pure.
  • Under "can't say fairer than that," we learn that, five years later, for New Year's 1980, Samad gives up masturbation. He trades it for drinkin'. But, as the narrator says, Samad is in the wrong religion to be making these kinds of deals.
  • Samad views his desire for Poppy Burt-Jones as a sign that his deal with his maker is off. So he starts masturbating again.
  • Now Samad makes a new deal with God; he isn't going to eat. And he throws himself into his job. Samad becomes an outstanding waiter, despite the fact that he is not eating, which seems like a pretty hard thing to do. (We here at Shmoop are particularly fond of brunch.)
  • One night at work, Samad and Shiva, another waiter, get into a discussion about Samad's feelings toward Poppy and the predicaments of the modern man. Samad does not wish to be a modern man or a Western man; in fact, he wants to return to the East.
  • On the Wednesday in September when Samad is supposed to see Poppy again, he takes Magid, Millat, and Irie to school. Irie and Magid are running late, and Samad is totally freaking out that he might miss seeing Poppy.
  • When they do get in the car, they are dressed all in black, with white armbands painted with baskets of vegetables. Also, the children will not speak; they have taken a vow of silence.
  • Magid and Irie are protesting about the very Harvest Festival Samad is trying to get rid of. Oh, this family. They need counseling or something.
  • The kids clearly don't want to be a part of the kind of family Samad is trying to create.
  • Next, Samad watches Poppy conduct the orchestra at school, and he is having some very sexy thoughts about her. Naughty, naughty Samad.
  • Then Poppy tells her students that next week, they will leave Swan Lake behind for Indian music because of Samad. The kids make fun of Indian music, and Poppy scolds them. She asks them how they would like it if someone made fun of a musician from their culture, like Queen. Samad thinks to himself that Freddie Mercury is actually a light-skinned Persian man. Nothing is simple; not even rock music.
  • After music class, Samad and Poppy go to her tiny, tiny office.
  • Samad thinks he sees Poppy's hands shaking and wonders if she has also been thinking of him, but he scolds himself for having this thought. He's fifty-seven and she's. Um. Young.
  • Nonetheless, Poppy leans forward while she and Samad are talking, and Samad kicks his stool out from under him and kisses her. Can't you just see it? It's like a movieā€¦ you know, the kind with a romantic side-plot that's absolutely headed for disaster.