Academic journal article Journal of Caribbean Literatures

Reading White Teeth to Improve Intercultural Communication

Academic journal article Journal of Caribbean Literatures

Reading White Teeth to Improve Intercultural Communication

Article excerpt

Zadie Smith's debut novel, White Teeth, tells the story of three different families: the Chalfens, Bowdens, and Iqbals. All have been placed into the multicultural setting of London, England where characters question their cultural practices and identities. White Teeth can be thought of as an allegorical novel since major characters are placed into exaggerated categories of assimilation and creolization. Such a critical framework suggests that the novel does not merely locate the existence of Caribbean themes and theories in the West, but actually constructs an unintentional critique, saying that cornerstones of Antillean culture (such as creolization) have been severely misinterpreted. White Teeth attempts to point out this misinterpretation and consequently offers advice to correct the problem of intercultural miscommunication in the West.

It is, of course, problematic to refer to White Teeth as a Caribbean novel since its narrative does not take place in the Caribbean, nor do a majority of the characters claim an authentic Caribbean heritage. The following will attempt to validate the suggestion that the novel utilizes creolization as its central theme, which in turn makes White Teeth an inherently West Indian text. This implies that the term creolization has the potential to be applied as an open theoretical text to situations existing outside of the West Indies, providing classic pieces of Caribbean literature with newfound importance. In other words, White Teeth successfully promotes creolization as a tool that can improve intercultural communication when the theory itself is properly interpreted and applied.

The article is split into four simple sections to substantiate the above contentions. The first section establishes creolization as a reading practice instead of a way to understand the diasporic history of the Caribbean. This is largely done by drawing on the theories of Edouard Glissant, which identify creolization as an interpretative lens that increases one's understanding of the natural multicultural condition. Using this reading practice as a guide, the assimilation/creolization dichotomy is used to show two things: first, it illustrates how White Teeth highlights Caribbean themes as a natural part of the West; second, it posits that creolization has been misused by Western civilization to ensure that a specific set of cultural values remain firmly in place while relegating alternate practices to inferior levels.

The second section conducts a close reading of White Teeth to analyze the Caribbean character, Irie, and the non-Caribbean characters, Millat and Joyce, to identify them as those who understand creolization to be an assimilative process. Their actions in White Teeth illustrate how misinterpretations of creolization segregate various cultures. The third section models the second, to display how the character Magid is the personification of creolization, and acts as an omniscient voice to show how all persons within the multicultural world are undeniably creolized. When other cultures recognize this as a point of connection, the potential for cultural harmony will be created. The final section briefly analyzes the classic Caribbean texts Wide Sagrasso Sea and Crick Crack Monkey to showcase how White Teeth shares fundamental themes with canonical West Indian works. All of these works can be applied to environments outside of the Caribbean to form more advanced critiques, and understandings, of the global multicultural condition.

Using Creolization and Assimilation to Read White Teeth

Creolization is typically used as a way to explain historic cultural movements within the West Indies. The Caribbean region is regarded as inherently multicultural and it is difficult to label Antillean natives with a single cultural heritage. This is largely due to the colonization of the Caribbean, starting in the fifteenth century with the arrival of Columbus who created a set of Spanish colonies. …

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