Study Guide

White Teeth Chapter 9

By Zadie Smith

Chapter 9


  • The narrator explains how Alsana splits the world into two camps: people who believe they live on safe, solid ground and people who live waiting for the next disaster. Alsana, and really all Bangladeshis, assumes the next tragedy is just around the corner.
  • This is why Alsana resents Samad; he's sending Magid to a place where he'll always be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Things sound pretty philosophical here, but Alsana's really just worrying like a typical mom.
  • In May of 1985, there is a cyclone in Bangladesh. Seven days after the cyclone, word comes that Magid is fine; he has suffered only a broken nose. He had been in a mosque and a vase fell off of a shelf and hit him in the face. (The narrator tells us to keep an eye on this vase as it will lead Magid to his vocation. Alrighty then.)
  • Alsana decides to stop speaking directly to Samad, so for the next eight years she never says yes or no to him. She wants him to live with the same uncertainty she does until he brings her son back home. Apparently, Alsana is opting for some hilarious kind of revenge.
  • Magid sends a letter to Samad and Alsana, and includes a picture of himself in it. He looks different than he used to and different than Millat because of his broken nose.
  • Millat says Magid looks like a chief, which means he looks like an idiot in Millat's street lingo. But Samad doesn't know this and agrees that Magid is a natural chief. Parents. They're so out of touch.
  • Then Millat laughs so hard, he slips and breaks his nose on the sink. No, really, that's what happens.
  • Samad always thinks of Magid as he looks in that picture, perfect and perpetually nine. He thinks of Millat as a constant problem, born two minutes later than his twin, and perpetually behind.
  • The narrator calls Millat the Pied Piper of Willesden Green because he always has girls following him around, he does everything first (smoking, drinking, sex…), and he's great at getting into trouble. He's, like, a Grade-A Expert at trouble-making.
  • The Iqbals and the Begums spend a lot of time talking about all the trouble their respective children get into. At these moments, everyone looks longingly at the picture of Magid. It's easy to be perfect when you're just a picture.
  • Magid and Millat, it turns out, have been sharing experiences psychically in the way people say twins sometimes do.
  • Then a really weird thing happens in the narrative (again). The next section is about three days presented one at a time.
  • The first day is October 15, 1987.
  • There is a massive storm going on and Alsana and Millat refuse to listen to Samad, who is telling them that they need to prepare for it.
  • After the shed in their back yard gets carried off, they agree to go to Archie's house. Archie is expecting them because he says that Samad was never very good at pratical stuff. Archie is not much of a thinker, but he's good in a storm.
  • Irie, very much a thirteen-year-old girl, is in the kitchen writing in her journal about how she's in love with Millat and he doesn't look at her. We've been there, Irie.
  • Alsana wants someone to tell a story so they don't have to listen to Archie and Samad reminisce all night like they always do, and Archie suggests that Samad tell the story of Mangal Pande. Everyone laughs, and Samad tells them all that it is not funny. Come to think of it, Samad doesn't seem to laugh much at all.
  • A huge tree falls right into the kitchen. Samad gets out his Qur'an and suggests that the group pray. He and Alsana fight about this for a while.
  • In the meantime, Irie and Millat sneak out of the house and into the storm. They go to the Willesden recreation ground (at the same moment, Magid is being dared to walk naked through a crocodile swamp—okay, maybe Magid's experience is crazier).
  • Millat confronts Irie about being in love with him, but tells her that she's getting big and he doesn't like big. He's not exactly nice about this.
  • In the middle of a fight they're having over what their children would look like, Millat kisses Irie. People just aren't predictable, we guess.
  • The second day is January 14, 1989.
  • Millat is at the ticket counter at King's Cross railway station trying to get a ticket to Bradford. He is speaking to the man behind the counter and trying to impress his friends, and everything he says is a question that ends with, yeah? Basically, he's just being disrespectful. The ticket-man fights with him.
  • The group manages to get on the train to Bradford without tickets. Their destination is a protest over a book, but none of the boys have actually read the book. Those darn apathetic kids, are we right? Ha.
  • According to the narrator, the reason why Millat actually bothers with the protest, then, is because until two weeks before Millat was a nameless, faceless Pakistani who was stuck in all sorts of categories where he didn't even belong. But because of this book, people who look like him are on television.
  • Samad is at home saying the same thing. He believes the book is offensive and will not read it, but he is dedicated to protecting his culture and religion from abuse. Maybe Millat did learn something from Samad after all.
  • Alsana ends up looking up Bengali in an encyclopedia and reads aloud to Samad that most Bengalis are descended from Indo-Aryans. She triumphantly declares that she's Western after all and suggests that pure people or pure faiths are a fairy tale. Right on, sister.
  • In the middle of their fight, Alsana sees Millat on the news at the protest. He is burning books.
  • Millat comes home to find all of his secular stuff burning in the back garden.
  • Alsana did it to teach him the lesson that everything is sacred or nothing is and that if he burns other people's things, his things will also burn. She sure knows how to teach someone a lesson.
  • The third day is November 10, 1989.
  • Alsana and Clara cook dinner and they all watch history on TV. We find out that they are watching something being torn down and that people died trying to cross it. It turns out to be a wall (it may not be 1989 but you can watch this historical event for some nice wall-tearing-down action).
  • Millat is completely bored (no surprise), but Irie thinks that the transition out of Eastern communism is amazing.
  • Samad and Archie lecture their children about the fact that Germany was divided for a reason. They were there to know why that happened.
  • Irie gets frustrated that Samad and Archie are always talking about the past (see our "History and the Past" theme for more on this). She wants to talk about right now.
  • Everyone has a different opinion on the issue, and Irie ends up storming out of the house while Millat heads up to his room. These kids sure are dramatic. Like most kids.
  • Clara defends their right to express their opinions, but Archie says that emotional matters are more her department.
  • Alsana follows Clara, crying, into the kitchen, and Archie and Samad decide to go to O'Connell's. Typical.