White Teeth

White Teeth Summary and Analysis of Chapters 6-8

The second section is entitled Samad 1984, 1857 and begins with the following quote from Norman Tebbit: "The cricket test--which side do they cheer for? ... Are you still looking back to where you came from or where you are?"

Chapter 6- The Temptation of Samad Iqbal

Without being aware of it, Samad has become a "parent-governer," and is over-involved in his children's education. At a school governer's meeting, equivalent to an American PTA meeting, Samad files his thirteenth complaint of the night, frustrating all others in attendance, including Alsana. He demands that a Muslim holiday be celebrated in place of the Harvest Festival, but the motion is not passed. After the meeting, Samad stops to chat with the Music teacher, Poppy Burt-Jones. She praises his children and says she supports Samad's failed motion. He agrees to meet with her to discuss it. To Samad's mortification, he is so attracted to Poppy that he gets an erection. Archie's entrance does little to ease the growing sexual tension; even after Poppy leaves, Samad silently repeats his favorite sayings to cease his arousal.

At this point, Smith carries us back in time to the stories behind these sayings. It is 1976, just after Samad marries Alsana. She is not sexually interested in him, so he asks the Alim at his local mosque whether masturbation is acceptable. The Alim gives him conflicting answers. Trying to justify masturbation, Samad suggests: "To the pure all things are pure." The Alim laughs at the idea that any man or action is pure, and advises him to, "stay away from your [his] right hand." Until 1980, the defiant Samad masturbates nightly with his functional left hand while repeating, "To the pure all things are pure."

New Year's Day, 1980: Afraid of Allah's wrath, Samad gives up masturbation for drink. To validate this exchange of one vice for another, he makes a habit of saying: "Can't say fairer than that..." In 1984, Samad interprets his attraction to Poppy as Allah's revenge on him. He starts masturbating several times a day and all over town. Feeling guilty, he fasts from sunrise to sunset and grows obsessed with his restaurant job. Tired of Samad's nitpicking, Shiva eventually confronts him and advises Samad not to feel guilty, but adds that relationships with English women never work out because of "too much bloody history."

Samad sits in the car with Millat, waiting to drive the children to school so he can see Poppy. When Magid and Irie finally get in the car. They have taken a vow of silence, are dressed in black, and wearing armbands to protest the Harvest Festival's demise. At school, Samad observes Music class and afterwards follows Poppy into her tiny office. He lies about Magid's protest, saying it is an Indian ritual. Just as Poppy says she admires Indians for their self-restraint, Samad leans across the desk and kisses her.

Chapter 7- Molars

Two deceptions occur simultaneously in the Iqbal household: Samad packs a shirt in preparation to sneak off and see Poppy while Magid and Millat pack food for their charity visit to an old man named J.P. Hamilton in honor of the Harvest Festival. These two deceptions (Samad's of Alsana, the children's of Samad) are strangely parallel in their details.

On the bus headed southward, Irie's provisions for J.P. Hamilton, including a coconut, disgust the boys. Meanwhile, Samad takes the same bus northward and stops to buy a coconut, which he gives to Poppy. The children arrive at J.P. Hamilton's. After mistaking them for salespeople and turning them away, he finally lets them in. He explains that all the food, save the coconut's milk, is too hard for him to eat since his teeth are rotten. He lectures the children on the importance of caring for one's teeth, and also discusses certain memories, such as how he shot "niggers" in the Congo. So absorbed in his own tale, he does not notice when Millat curses him and kicks over his tea tray. By the time he finishes speaking, the children and food are gone.

On the other side of town, Mad Mary, follows Samad and Poppy. When Poppy turns to look, Mad Mary accosts them, spits in Samad's face, and yells at him to tell her the solution for oppression. Samad calmly talks her down, saying there is no one solution, and even touches her on the shoulder. Samad and Poppy continue to a park bench, where they decide to spend the night together. As Poppy searches her purse for the toothbrush she has bought Samad, he closes his eyes and hears: "To the pure all things are pure," followed by "Can't say fairer than that." When he opens his eyes, he sees Magid and Millat waving to him, "their white teeth biting into two waxy apples."

Chapter 8- Mitosis

In O'Connell's, "an Irish poolroom run by Arabs with no pool tables," where Archie and Samad have met every day for the last ten years between 6 and 8pm to discuss issues great and small. Today they meet early to discuss Samad's cheating problem, but Archie is late. While Samad waits, he chats with Mickey, a pimpled caricature of an owner and grill cook. His real name is Adbul, a name also given to all of his brothers, a tradition meant to remind them not to consider themselves higher than others. When Archie arrives, Samad explains that ever since the afternoon on the park bench, he is plagued with visions of his sons when he is with Poppy. Mickey tells Archie that Samad can either send his sons to be raised traditionally in India, or accept that they have been and will continue to be corrupted.

Samad decides to send his sons to India. As he grows more immoral, he forces his children to be more traditional. The narrator criticizes Samad's rationale that he can save his sons without saving himself, explaining: "You would get nowhere telling him... that the first sign of tooth decay is something rotten, something degenerate, deep within the gums. Roots were what saved, the ropes one throws out to rescue drowning me, to Save their Souls." Lacking funds, Samad realizes he must choose one of his sons to send away. He wavers back and forth. One night he comes home to find Alsana weeping over the radio at the news of Indira Ghandi's assassination. She is afraid for her family's lives in the bloodshed that is doomed to follow. She accuses Samad of planning something behind her back and they start a fistfight. The twins watch them excitedly, placing bets on the outcome. When the fight is over, Samad sends them to bed and tells Magid, "You'll thank me in the end. This country's no good. We tear each other apart in this country." Then he calls Poppy to end the affair. Alsana's premonitions about bloodshed prove right. Atrocities are occurring daily in India: "legs, fingers, noses, toes, and teeth, teeth everywhere, scattered throughout the land, mingling with the dust."

Samad works his shift at the restaurant, waiting for Archie to drop Magid off for the abduction. However, Poppy and her sister distract him after requesting him as their waiter. Archie arrives as scheduled, but with all three children. They woke up when he tried to take Magid. Irie is asleep, and the boys blow on the glass for their father to touch. Samad, "puts his one hand up, applying a false touch to their lips, raw pink against the glass, their saliva mingling in the grimy condensation."


Smith sets the stage for the second section by asking the reader to consider the value of looking to the past for answers and inspiration. The danger in always looking backwards is that one can forget where one is, and where one is headed. Samad has trouble translating the glory of his heritage that so inspires him into his own present life and his children's future. In the course of the next few chapters, Smith also demonstrates that lives run parallel to each other. Therefore, she asks, is legacy straightforward, progressing from generation to generation, or is it a winding path that can also turn back on itself? Do our children shape who we are as much as our ancestors?

Smith begins to answer these questions by exposing Samad's hypocrisy in his own views on heritage and legacy. He is obsessed with the legacy of Mangal Pande, who sacrificed his life for his cause. However, Samad refuses to sacrifice things, always exchanging one vice for another or indulging in many at once: Alsana and Poppy, masturbation and drink. Instead of making a decision, he justifies his indecision by saying, "can't say fairer than that." One wonders how an indecisive person such as Samad will fulfill his legacy and earn a place in history. However, Samad's indecision does not go unpunished by the universe. While deceiving Alsana, his children deceive him and celebrate the Harvest Festival against his wishes.

Just as Samad refuses to choose between one vice and another, Magid is not willing to choose Indian culture over English culture. Hypocritically, Samad does not tolerate Magid's indecision because he is so busy glancing not only, "back to where [he] came from," (Pande's heroism), but also forward to his children's future. Thus, he does not realize what a bad example he sets. Only when Magid and Millat catch Samad with Poppy does he realize that his legacy depends on his present actions. Not only do Magid and Millat catch Samad committing adultery and refusing to sacrifice his affair to honor his marriage, but they have also learned the sayings he uses to justify this kind of behavior: "to the pure all things are pure" and "can't say fairer than that." Hearing his sons repeat his own guilty words, Samad finally understands the responsibility he bears for his legacy.

The title of Chapter 6, "Temptation," connects the issue of Samad's legacy to the most infamous legacy of all-original sin. In Chapter 7, when Magid and Millat catch Samad with Poppy, he notices "their white teeth biting into two waxy apples." This is also the last image in the story, which gives it extra weight. In this moment, Samad represents Eve, tasting the metaphorical forbidden fruit, represented by Poppy. In an image that magnifies Samad's transgression, Magid and Millat bite into apples, the very symbol of original sin. Just as Eve's sin brought a legacy of mortality, labor, and suffering to the children of the Earth, Samad's example sets his children up for similar wrongdoing. Interestingly, while this climactic image places a burden of responsibility on Samad, it also takes one away. Samad, like all people, is descended from Eve; therefore, he is destined to sin, as are his sons.

The image of Magid and Millat biting into apples also introduces a new reference to teeth: they are used to taste, to experience sensory pleasure. Molars are specifically the teeth that help grind food to digest it. The title "Molars" implies that Magid and Millat are 'digesting' what their father does and learning from it. When Poppy gives Samad a toothbrush, she means it as a sweet gesture of companionship. However, it also draws attention to Samad's actions being unclean. If Samad is as careless with his indulgences as J.P. Hamilton was with his teeth, he may end up like the old man, unable to appreciate taste at all.

Samad finally decides to 'clean up' his children's actions, but is far too late. Magid and Millat have already witnessed Samad's careless behavior. Rebellion has already taken root. Just as no amount of polishing a tooth's enamel will stop its root from rotting, no amount of trying to refine Magid and Millat will change who they are becoming within. The image that ends Chapter 8 is hopeful for the twins. Instead of hard, unalterable teeth, it focuses on "their lips, raw pink against the glass, [and] their saliva mingling in the grimy condensation." Lips represent the fleshly and mutable, and the image gives us hope that the twins can yet be 'saved' from emulating their father's mistakes. However, Samad touches their lips through glass, implying that he will never be able to reach them directly or completely. In light of the chapter's title, "Mitosis," the twins' mingling saliva reminds us that they are genetically one flesh, created from cell division during mitosis. Therefore, separating the two is unnatural and is sure to have major consequences.

While Archie and Samad's lives are full of rapid change and lack of control, at O'Connell's, "everything [is] remembered, nothing [is] lost. History [is] never revised or reinterpreted, adapted or whitewashed. It [is] as solid as the encrusted egg on the clock." O'Connell's is a safe haven where absolutely nothing changes. There, the men feel momentarily suspended in the present, relieved of the heavy responsibilities of the past and future.