Study Guide

White Teeth Appearances

By Zadie Smith


Has anyone ever told you that appearances don't matter? Well, you'll have to forget that for now. In a novel where characters are searching for identities they can believe in, appearances are, like, super important. See, characters in White Teeth use what other people tell them about their appearances to understand how the outside world views them. The narrator gives us really detailed accounts of characters' appearances too, so we are also asked directly to think about what it means for a character to look a certain way. All this talk about looks might not leave you feeling good, but it's pretty hard to escape—in our culture at large, and in this book.

Questions About Appearances

  1. How do other characters' perceptions of Irie's appearance impact her? Are they all positive or all negative? Do they make her feel good or bad or both?
  2. How do characters use aspects of their appearance they can control (like clothes or hair) to shape the way other characters see them? Why does Millat dress a certain way? What about Irie and her hair?
  3. How do the narrators' character descriptions influence the way you see the characters? Does the narrator give objective descriptions? Are we meant to take something specific away from the descriptions?
  4. Why are appearances so important in this novel? Does the novel provide us with an accurate representation of the way people actually respond to appearances?

Chew on This

Even though Millat and Magid are twins, people pay much more attention to Millat's appearance than to Magid's—Millat trades on his appearance while Magid presents himself as a brain.

While it might not be fair to judge people based on their appearances, people do conciously manipulate their own appearances to send messages to the world around them.