White Teeth

White Teeth Summary and Analysis of Chapters 14-15

Chapter 14 - More English Than the English

Joyce Chalfen sneaks Magid's address from Irie's address book, and from then on Magid and Marcus are pen pals. They write volumes of mutual admiration back and forth, which Irie is forced to file for Marcus. Jealous that Magid is Marcus's new prodigy, Irie begins reading some of the letters before filing them. She stops her spying after reading a letter from Marcus to Magid, in which he lists the size of her breasts and says the only science for which she is suited is dentistry. Despite the letter's insulting nature, Irie resolves to become a dentist.

Meanwhile, Millat continues his promiscuous ways. He dates a girl named Karina, and prides himself on cheating on her with three other women. His KEVIN friends do not approve of his relationship with a white woman who flaunts her body in the degrading 'Western way,". In response to their pressure, Millat begins to disparage her. After being rejected by a woman whom he is trying to educate in the ways of KEVIN, he dumps Karina. Millat retreats to the Chalfen household, where Joyce is overjoyed to give him advice. Meanwhile, Irie has decided to spend a year volunteering in Africa before going to school for dentistry. Clara objects on the grounds of cost and Irie's desire to study poor black people. Irie approaches Clara when she is in bed, knowing she is vulnerable there. Clara lisps her disapproval, and Irie tells her: "Why can't you... talk to me properly and drop the little girl voice--" as she knocks over the glass containing Clara's upper teeth. The teeth bite down on her foot, and for the first time she realizes that her mother's upper teeth are fake. Irie takes the fact that Clara never told her this as, "yet another item in a long list of parental hypocrisies and untruths," and flees to her grandmother, Hortense's house.

Chapter 15- Chalfenism Versus Bowdenism

Irie and Hortense have not met in six years, since Hortense stopped speaking to Clara for marrying a white man. Her basement house is the same, except that Darcus has died. Hortense tells Irie that she is named after her great-grandmother, Ambrosia. Ryan Topps, now a prominent Jehovah's Witness, is staying in Clara's old room and helps Hortense around the house. Hortense introduces Irie to Ryan, saying, "she might have been yours."

Back at the Jones household, Clara calls Hortense to complain, afraid that Irie will become a Jehovah's Witness. However, "Irie's atheism was robust. It was Chalfenist in its confidence." However, she does become fascinated by her family's past and yearns to claim it. Irie comes to think of Jamaica as her "homeland," considering it a simpler place, free from the weight of the past or future. One day, Josh Chalfen shows up. He has become a scruffy, thin extreme animal-rights activist, and passes out flyers for FATE, Fighting Animal Torture and Exploitation. His rationale for this newfound extremism is: "It's only by really fucking extreme behavior that you can get through to somebody like Marcus."

On April Fool's Day at the Jones house, a somber Samad visits to reveal that Millat has been missing for three weeks. He laments his failure to bring up good sons, and accepts that everything in life is an "accident." Irie loves the sound of things being left to chance, but understands Samad and comforts him. Later, Hortense and Ryan reveal that they have secured the new date of Judgment Day, in the year 2000. Hortense emotionally discusses how she saw the century begin in an earthquake, and is determined to live to see it end in another. To Irie's delight, Hortense invites her to go to Jamaica with her in the year 2000.


Chapters 14 and 15 examine the unexpected ways in which the familial generations begin to connect. Each child has a new and unlikely mentor: Irie/Hortense, Magid/Marcus, Millat/Joyce, and Joshua/FATE. In these new relationships, the children rebel against their parents in order to define themselves as individuals. Irie's rebellion is perhaps the most complex of all. Two experiences involving teeth force Irie to reevaluate whom she wants to emulate. When Marcus Chalfen essentially dumps her for Magid and moreover doubts her scientific ability, she begins to lose faith in the Chalfen's. Even though Marcus insults her by saying the only science for which she is fit is dentistry, Irie resolves to become a dentist. In reality, this may be her way of showing Marcus that she can not only be a dentist, but also excel in the field. However, dentistry also makes sense metaphorically as Irie's profession. A dentist not only knows the most intimate details of teeth, but is also able to fix them. Accordingly, where teeth symbolize people, Irie is a natural dentist; that is, she is an examiner of human behavior. Irie searches for her identity, but tires of her various facades (daughter of Archie and Clara, lackey to Millat, Chalfenist). None of these identities feel authentic to her. Appropriately, Irie's awakening comes in the form of a literal bite: Clara's false teeth bite her foot, and she suddenly realizes that all her past experiments have only scratched the surface of discovering her true identity. However, she does learn valuable lessons from her time spent scratching the surface, especially from the Chalfen's, from whom she develops confidence, decisiveness, and an invaluable sense of intellect. Armed with the tool of Chalfenism, the natural dentist inside of Irie emerges. She decides to go to the root for answers, just as a dentist would, and that root is Hortense.

In Chapter 15, Smith defines Bowdenism in relation to Chalfenism. Where Chalfenism is progressive, intellectual, and atheistic, Bowdenism is traditional, faith-based, and deeply religious. While Irie looks to Hortense for answers about herself, she cannot place her destiny in the hands of the Jehovah's Witnesses, and wants to challenge Hortense's ideas rather than accept and promote them. In the narrator's words, Irie "[lays] claim to her past--her version of the past--aggressively, as if retrieving misdirected mail... This all [belongs] to her, her birthright.". In Smith's terms, Irie approaches Bowdenism in a Chalfenist manner, "aggressively" gleaning from it the sense of belonging for which she yearns, while rejecting the lifestyle it prescribes. For example, Irie is overjoyed at the prospect of going to Jamaica in 2000, not because she thinks the world will end, but because she wants to discover her roots.

While Irie defines herself using a balance of two approaches, Chalfenism and Bowdenism, Joshua and Millat are swept up in different types of fundamentalism. While Irie's father is notoriously indecisive, the boys' fathers hold steadfast to their beliefs. Therefore, to find their individuality, the boys must go in a different, if not opposite, directions. Ironically, in their fundamentalism, the boys are trying to reclaim their fathers' attentions. Joshua admits that he has joined FATE to get Marcus's attention. While Samad disapproves of the militant group, KEVIN, Millat follows his father's wishes to a certain extent by devoting himself to something traditional and Eastern.