Multiculturalism in “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith Essay (Book Review)

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Sep 3rd, 2020


The book White Teeth published in 2000 is the first novel by Zadie Smith. It describes the lives of two families, the heads of which are good friends, but they have different values and national identities. This novel is believed to depict a multicultural London of the twentieth century.


The author tends to emphasize the importance of cultural identity in a modern multicultural society and the inability of immigrants to forget their history. Racism is another essential theme in the novel. It is stated that “Smith tries to incorporate heterogeneity without taking away the pressure of ethnic boundaries of Asian and African that creates a rigidity from the part of heterogeneity and hybridity” (Dubey 99). Therefore, secondary sources that analyze this novel are mainly focused on problems of roots and cultural identity. The name of the novel is used as a metaphor to show the equality of people as they are all born with white teeth regardless of their skin color and social status.

The ancillary sources overlap in the claims that the author critically examines the socio-political aspects of Great Britain in the post-Thatcher period. The narrative observes past and present events that assist in understanding the specific problems faced by the main characters of the novel. The relationship between the main protagonists is based on the mutual military experience during World War II. Thus, the novel has a deep social and national context. Some researchers state that “Smith’s proliferation of characters and thereby diverse voices that exist in the novel recall the heteroglossic nature of the novel” (Öztop Haner 144). Thus, it is possible to say that the book has many conflicts that occur in the dialogs and have neither a distinct point of view nor finalization.

It should be noted that White Teeth is a deeply realistic novel. Some researchers argue that the texts that contain hysterical realism are often implausible as realism is exaggerated in them (Jayne 101). Still, it is possible to say that Smith is one of the authors who differentiate between experience and fiction. One of her characters notes that the gap between books and experience reminds a lonely ocean (Smith 199). It creates some tension between various researchers of her works. Thus, writers use fiction tools to meet readers’ requirements, which alters reality and creates a difference between books and real life.

Although the theme of racism and multicultural society is referred to by many critics and researchers of Smith’s works, it would be beneficial to explore in-depth these statements. The novel contains historical roots of British immigrant identity and describes it in detail. For example, the second generation of immigrants might identify themselves both as British and Muslim. The specific stereotypes usually present Pakistanis as criminals from a lower layer of society. For instance, the fact that Samad lives in North London is the result of the discrimination he faces in other suburbs. It is also believed that immigrants in Britain are afraid not only of native British people but also of the immigrants whose culture is different from theirs. Thus, the fate of Smith’s characters is closely linked with globalization history.


The given book review dealt with the debut novel by Zadie Smith named White Teeth. The critics note that the main purpose of this novel was to explore the multicultural environment of London at the end of the twentieth century. The novel is also characterized by a deep realism that is close to hysterical as some critics note. Still, the novel represents the main aspects of racism in Britain and the cultural identity of British immigrants.

Works Cited

Dubey, Neha. “Repetitive Syndrome: ‘Marketing Hybridity in Fiction’ in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.” An International Refereed Journal of English Language and Literature, vol. 2, no. 4, 2016, p. 92-99.

Jayne, Ian. “Zadie Smith’s “Docile Bodies”: Institutional Gazes in White Teeth.” The Sigma Tau Delta, vol. 15, no. 1, 2018, pp. 101-108.

Öztop Haner, Sezgi. “A Bakhtinian Approach to Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.” Journal of International Social Research, vol. 9, no. 47, 2016, pp. 142-149.

Smith, Zadie. White Teeth. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2003.

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