White Teeth and the Crossing: Similarities Between Saman and Khumbu

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer


Samad Iqbal and Khumbu are chracters from two different pieces of literary art works by Zadie Smith and Jonathan Nkala. Samad’s life is presented through Smith’s novel known as “White Teeth” while Khumbu is the main character in Nkala’s monologue known as “The Crossing”. A sense of belonging is desired by both characters some factors pave way for evidence of similarities and differences that can be reflected upon in order to understand both art works. Both the similarities and differences that can be noted from Khumbu’s and Samad’s lives will be discussed as the main concern of this essay.


Both the male figures belong to the marginalized groups of people and their home countries are not governed well enough for a goodly economic lifestyle. Samad’s home country is India and there is evidence from the text that at the time he wanted to send his sons there, Bangladesh (India’s capital city) was a valley of death. We learn this from chapter eight of “White Teeth” where it is written that pieces of human parts were scattered everywhere and mixed with dust. About Khumbu’s life, the narrator of “The Crossing” tells us that there were about 18 000 people in Khumbu’s home place Kwekwe in Zimbabwe while there were only 20 jobs. The probable exaggeration hints that there was definitely no work for all the people who lived there. We know that the two men belonged to the marginalized groups of people because Samad made less tips than Shiva who was Hindu and people who came to the Indian restaurant they worked in favoured Shiva more. The previously mentioned point in evidence of marginalization brings us also to another similarity between the two men. They were both working for very little earnings. For Samad’s life we can recall from chapter three that his wife complained about them purchasing a house but not having money for food. The narrator of “The Crossing” also says that people in Zimbabwe would starve while having a lot of money dug in holes behind their houses.

Another similarity that is notable is that both men face and confront differences in the context of culture and worth (Maedza, 2013. p. 41). Khumbu’s migration to South Africa caused him to meet differently cultured people whose skin looked like his but language was different. It is also obvious that his travel from Limpopo to Johannesburg and to Cape Town introduced him to different ethnicities of black people.

Limpopo is occupied by Venda, Xitsonga, Isindebele and Sepedi speaking people. Towards Johannesburg, it is highly possible to meet people who speak four or more languages other than the ones I have already mentioned. Samad on the other hand is an Indian man in London, where the English as well as Jamaicans are citizens there.


The most notable of differences is that Khumbu is a child to his mother while Samad is a father to his children. The obviously different histories and times during which Smith’s novel and Nkala’s play were written cannot be alienated from the differences between the two characters’ experiences.

The other factor that contributes to the differences in the experiences of both these men is geography. While Samad experiences racism in London, Khumbu experiences xenophobia in South Africa. Samad is of the belief that he deserves to become more than just a waiter because of his ancestral history but the system under lives considers him a minor and he is left to earning little for the provision of his family. Khumbu’s trip to Cape Town is one of the most saddening xenophobic events described in Nkala’s play. We learn that he was mistreated by the truck driver who had initially acted as a good person to him. With the assumption of being better or more powerful than Khumbu, we can note the manifestation of the truck driver’s anger that has not been dealt with (Flockemann, Ngara, Roberts & Castle, 2010, p. 253), thus expressed through being xenophobic.

A slightly subtle difference between the two men can be traced upon their belief systems and mind-sets. Khumbu told a lie without any manipulative justifications about his quest of migrating to South Africa. In the Christian context, such is sin but Samad commits an immoral deed then justifies it by calling himself pure and by saying to people who are pure all things are pure. Noting that both these men commit different sins, it is clear that Khumbu’s only justification of what he did was that he desired a better life and was prepared to become a better person with some honesty. Moreover, Khumbu became permitted to live in South Africa in the end and one may justify his act of crossing the border as one that brought some salvation to him. Samad only becomes an addict to morphine and there are no improvements to his life. He becomes a cheating husband and since such is adulterous he becomes a more tainted soul than a pure one.

The arguments between Samad and his wife Alsana are resolved through violence and Smith seems to show that Alsana’s position as a woman cannot be contained within the stereotype of being submissive as a Muslim wife (Klis, Bagchi & Franssen, 2015, p. 16). While Samad experiences reactive violence from Alsana, Khumbu experiences violence that is reactive to his impoverished position (Flockemann, Ngara, Roberts & Castle, 2010, p. 253) but does not respond in violence especially to the truck driver. Samad struggles with his religious identity (Klis, Bagchi & Franssen, 2015, p. 10) as opposed to Khumbu who seems to be living outside the religious realm although some of his actions can be related to Christian principles. This point can be retraced on the third point of this paragraph because of religion being closely related with certain teachings regarding how one should conduct their lives (i.e. avoiding sin).

Both these men cannot be identified in any manner other than as men who struggle with negotiating an identity for themselves in foreign countries and are constantly faced with challenges against positive progression. Being human seems to also play a role in Khumbu’s struggles in the sense that he has a good heart and is not violent. Samad’s sexual attraction to Poppy (a white woman) on the other hand, stands in his way with regard to being able to keep his soul pure by abstaining from adultery.

Unfortunately for both men, the experiences of being hindered from the better lives that they aspire or feel they deserve is common. Ethnicity and race determine for them the degree to which they can afford food. One can say that emasculation is characteristic for those who are in foreign lands even when making honest efforts to have well-sustained lives. Even the legacy that can be left by a historical icon in one’s lineage can be of no effect as it is with Samad. In the land where Khumbu’s ancestors have lived, emasculation seems to have been an existing plague that follows him to a foreign land.


The possibilities of being what one aspired or felt deserved to become cannot be excluded from both storylines in “White Teeth” and “The Crossing”. Khumbu and Samad have been emasculated because of the ethnicity and race each of them they belonged to. In their attempts to become a part of a certain identity or recreate one of their own, the loss for observance of religious principles and the struggle to earn enough to afford surely prevailed.

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