Study Guide

White Teeth Tradition

By Zadie Smith


Samad Iqbal is obsessed with tradition. He fights with his wife about it, he lectures his best friend about it, and he makes his children crazy with it. The man is wild for tradition. But, Samad doesn't know how to reconcile this love of tradition with his very own desires. White Teeth shows us that one of the substantial conflicts immigrants face is how to maintain certain traditional values and customs without getting left behind or left out of their new home. This conflict is even harder for second-generation immigrants to resolve. It's difficult enough when your parents tell you that they had to walk to school up hill both ways every day, but it's even more difficult when those stories take place in another country. And another culture. You can't be quite as sure that they're lying. Er, exaggerating.

Questions About Tradition

  1. Why is tradition so important to Samad?
  2. Does Archie have any traditions that he holds on to? If so, what are they? If not, why not?
  3. How do Magid and Millat respond to the traditions their father tries desperately to instill in them? Why do they react this way?
  4. What room is there for tradition in the fast, modern world of White Teeth? Does tradition ever "win"? When?

Chew on This

Tradition is one of the most powerful forces in this novel, but it almost always "loses" to modernity, to change.

Tradition may seem harmless, but it is one dangerous force (you know, like the dark side).