White Teeth

White Teeth Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-10

Chapter 9- Mutiny!

We gain insight into Alsana's views on what separates Bengalis from the English. Under the constant threat of natural disaster, Bengalis feel free to go to extremes in their emotions and actions. They "hold their lives lightly," knowing at any moment they might end. The English "have a basic inability to conceive of disaster, even when it is man-made." They are so secure in their safety that they do not feel pressured to take risks. What angers Alsana more than the kidnapping is that Magid will have to grow up as she did, in fear of catastrophe. Also, she will worry about him every time a disaster occurs in Bangladesh. To gain revenge on Samad, she makes him live in uncertainty too; refusing to give him definitive answers to even the simplest questions. One day, Samad and Alsana receive a letter from Magid in which he mentions that he broke his nose in a recent cyclone. Samad uses the casual but observant update as proof that Magid is becoming a wise leader just like Pande. Samad taunts Millat with this conclusion, saying now that he and Magid will look different due to Magid's broken nose, clearly Magid is the one destined for greatness while Millat is a "good-for-nothing," second in birth and in life. Millat laughs so hard at this suggestion that he trips and breaks his own nose. Even continents apart, the twins' lives run parallel. They are even miraculously saved from death at the same moment: Magid survives a tornado, and at the same time, Millat has unprotected sex with an HIV-infected woman but does not contract the disease.

During a terrible hurricane, Samad, Alsana, and Iqbal flee to the Jones's well-protected house. Things are peaceful and safe until a giant tree crashes through the ceiling, landing in a spot that Archie had just vacated. Samad prays, Alsana rolls her eyes at him, and Millat and Irie sneak outside to walk through the storm together. Millat teases Irie about her crush on him, saying she can never have him, but he kisses her anyway. Two years later, Millat and his tough friends sneak onto a train to Bradford to attend a protest. After the ticket man calls him a "Paki," or Pakistani, Millat criticizes the English for their ignorance and racism. Back at home, Samad is similarly worked up about the protest, which he and Alsana are watching on television. Suddenly, Alsana spots Millat in the riot footage, burning books and property. When Millat comes home that evening, Alsana has burned of all his belongings to teach him to respect other people's property. At this point, we return to November 10, 1989, two months earlier. The Iqbal and Jones families watch the Berlin wall fall on television. They argue over the event, and then over the children's defiance, until everyone but Archie and Samad leaves. The two friends decide to go to O'Connell's.

Chapter 10- The Root Canal of Mangal Pande

New Year's Eve, 1989: Samad has finally convinced Mickey to hang a portrait of Mangal Pande on the wall, even though Mickey thinks the unattractive image will ruin customers' appetites. Archie suggests that Samad distance himself from Pande's legacy, since the word coined after him, "pandy," means "any fool or coward in a military situation." Samad says this meaning does not truly represent his great-grandfather's legacy. Pande shot the first bullet of the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857 in protest against the new standard English bullet, the casing of which had to be bitten but contained pig and cow grease (forbidden to Muslims and Hindus, respectively). Samad sees Pande as a martyr for the very core of his people's beliefs. He gets very angry when Archie tells one historian's version of the legend, in which Pande is drunk and high when he fires the first bullet. Samad recalls the day his nephew took him to his college library to read historian A.S. Misra's defense of Pande and his heroism. He wept upon reading it. Samad argues that any man will kill if threatened sufficiently. With a mysterious look in his eye, Archie replies: "And there will be people he will save." Just then, the clock strikes midnight and the new year begins.


In Chapters 9 and 10, Alsana, one of the novel's most opinionated characters, sets the stage. Knowing her temper, the reader must take her opinions carefully, weighing them against the characters' actions to examine their truth. According to Alsana, the English are firmly rooted to the point of inaction. Archie's storm-proof house symbolizes his culture's reluctance to take risks or "hold [his life] lightly," the way Bengalis do. However, Samad and Alsana make it seem as though Bengalis continue this tradition of "holding life lightly" even in England: they do not storm-proof their house, and therefore must find refuge with Archie and Clara. Via hefty extrapolation, one can compare this situation to British colonialism. While the Bengalis begrudge the English for their too-content, risk-free demeanor, they also rely on them for a degree of security.

Alsana worries about Magid rather than Millat, believing that by growing up in Bangladesh, Magid will be forced to live richly yet insecurely, as though every moment were his last. As we learn, Magid instead grows up to be a calm, calculating individual. Ironically, Millat, who grows up in the lap of safety, seeks out danger and chooses to live his life in extremes. When Archie brags, "Can't hardly tell there's a storm going on from here," Millat retorts, "Yeah... That's the problem," and sneaks outside to be completely vulnerable to the storm. Though he grows up in England, the land of mundane security, Millat thirsts for thrills to the point of self-endangerment.

The twins' experiences reflect that ethnic generalizations only apply to a certain degree. After all, there is evidence to neatly reverse Alsana's verdict about the Bengalis versus the English. Though Bengalis supposedly "hold their lives lightly," Archie trusts his most pivotal decisions to the flip of a coin. Meanwhile, when debating which son to send to Bangladesh, Samad agonizes, thinking he is ultimately in control of their destinies. In light of this evidence, perhaps Bengalis do not "hold their lives lightly," as Alsana claims, but rather cling to them too tightly for fear of having them ripped away. Meanwhile, the English are so secure that they can keep a looser grip on life and take risks. And, what of the Jamaican Hortense, born miraculously in the middle of a terrible earthquake? Far from "holding her life lightly," she places the heavy weight of atonement on it, making every action count towards her fate in the afterlife.

When the tree crashes through Archie and Clara's house, precisely where Archie had just been standing, it becomes clear that regardless of ethnicity, no one is safe from the unexpected. Here again Smith demonstrates the importance of coincidence and chance, reminding the reader to question whether deliberate action or chance is the driving force in life. The tree's crashing also serves to highlight Archie's progress since his suicide attempt on Cricklewood Broadway. Now, instead of being stuck on an unimpressive roadway in an unimpressive life, he has built a secure home, family, and social life. Before he meets Clara, Archie is prepared to die knowing that hardly anyone will miss him. However, now it would matter if the tree crushed him to death. While still relatively mediocre, Archie's life has become worthwhile.

Although Samad tries to control all aspects of his life, specifically his sons' development, a "Mutiny," occurs, preventing Samad from controlling fate and his legacy. Magid develops into the opposite of what Samad had hoped, Millat grows into a rebellious, passionate man, and Alsana refuses to provide definitive answers to anything. Unlike Samad, Archie embraces uncertainty (such as the chance that a coin will land on heads). In fact, Archie concludes Chapter 10 with uncertainty, stating, "And there will be people he will save." This statement foreshadows the later discovery that Archie did not kill Dr. Perret during the war. Thus, Archie's heroism is as uncertain as Pande's.