White Teeth

White Teeth Summary and Analysis of Chapters 19-20

Chapter 19- The Final Space

It is the day of the FutureMouse conference, New Year's Eve, December 31, 1992. Joshua is in a van, heading to the protest with other members of FATE. When a new member uses the word "Chalfenist" to ridicule Marcus Chalfen, Joshua realizes for the first time that he is truly betraying his father. Suddenly he feels trapped between loyalties and afraid of consequences, but a marijuana joint calms his nerves.

At the train station, Millat is high on marijuana. He and other members of KEVIN are on their way to the protest. Millat got high in order to stomach Plan B, the new plan of action for the protest. Brother Ibrahim ad-Din Shukrallah's arrest made them aware of increasing police surveillance, and KEVIN decided it was unwise to carry out their more hands-on Plan A. Plan B involves repeating a passage from the Qur'an in the hallway leading to FutureMouse, which Millat considers cowardly compared to the violent plan he favored. Shiva, now Head of Internal Security for KEVIN, worries about Millat's state of mind and tries to convince him that Plan B will work. In truth, Shiva is a member of KEVIN for the high profile it gives him rather than any sincere belief. The group arrives in Trafalgar Square, and Millat leaves the group to sit on a bench engraved with the word "IQBAL." Samad traced the letters in his own blood and then with a knife after another waiter accidentally sliced off the top of the thumb on his bad hand. Samad told Millat that after he carved his name, he felt ashamed. Samad realized it was presumptuous to want to carve his name on the world. Millat sees the carving as a symbol of his family's failure, including Samad and Pande. Millat is determined to break this trend and become someone important: "Where Pande misfooted he would step sure. Where Pande chose A, Millat would choose B."

Meanwhile, Ryan Topps is staring at the daily quote on the calendar he prepared: "He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow." He considers it so fitting that he rips it off and put it in his pocket before he and Hortense head to the protest. Ryan needs no arguments against Marcus Chalfen, as he is confident in his faith.

Archie, Samad, Alsana, Irie, and Neena are on a bus headed to the FutureMouse conference. Tensions run high and finally Irie explodes with frustration, lecturing everyone about how some families live in the present, without dwelling constantly on past pain and conflict. No one but Irie knows that she is eight weeks pregnant. She will never know whether the father is Magid or Millat, because genetic testing is useless when the potential fathers have identical genes.

At the Perret institute, where FutureMouse is to be presented, the Exhibition Room has been carefully designed to create a feeling of scientific grandeur. The narrator tells us that just as the room is a blank slate, whose identity can be changed by altering its facade, immigrants become blank slates, changed, "renamed [and] rebranded" so much that their identity disappears.

Chapter 20 - Of Mice and Memory

Having followed the protagonists' paths to the FutureMouse conference, we experience the opening from their different points of view. Archie finds the conference thrilling, so important that it is even better than television. Marcus sits at a conference table with the mouse and four other scientists, including a very old man. The equally excited Mickey joins him, excited that Marcus's research might help with his genetic skin disorder. FATE plans to storm the conference table with a gun and make Marcus choose between Joshua and his mouse. As Marcus begins speaking, Joshua realizes that his father will decide based not on love, but rational thought in the Chalfenist tradition. He suddenly doubts FATE and thinks of his father fondly.

Millat has a gun in his pocket and is observing everything. He resorts to violence because he feels drawn by fate; as the narrator confirms, "He's a Pande deep down. And there's mutiny in his blood." Ironically, he draws inspiration from a Western source, the Godfather movie. Therefore, rather emulating Pande, he emulates Pacino.

Irie has a vision of a time when heritage will not matter because roots are untraceable. Her child is the harbinger of such a time, as the secret of his father's identity will never be revealed and therefore, cannot matter.

Archie, Clara, and Samad begin to hear Hortense's singing float in to the room from the hallway. Samad goes out to force her and the other Jehovah's Witnesses to stop, but cannot. Instead, he finds himself understanding Hortense, who is an immigrant struggling for identity, just like him. He thinks, "Can't say fairer than that" and leaves her be. Back inside, Archie thinks about how Samad is his mentor, and is amazed to realize he has not made a decision without him in forty years. Just then, he vaguely recognizes the name of the old scientist, Dr. Marc-Pierre Perret, but does not realize he is the Nazi doctor from WWII until he sees Millat staring at him. Archie looks at the old scientist and notices he is crying tears of blood. At the same moment, Samad recognizes Dr. Perret as Dr. Sick, realizes that the very basis of his friendship with Archie is a lie, and runs back to his seat to curse him. Millat rises and prepares to shoot Dr. Perret, and without thinking, Archie puts himself between them.

In a flashback to the war, Archie is walking Dr. Perret through the darkness to shoot him. He is nervous and apologetic, and Dr. Perret takes advantage of this by drawing Archie's attention to his "moral quandary." He is trapped between honoring his country and Samad and honoring a man's right to live despite his actions. There is always a chance that Perret might change his ways for good. Archie suddenly remembers that he has a coin in his pocket, and decides to flip it to decide the doctor's fate. If heads is the outcome, Archie will kill him, and if tails is the outcome, Dr. Perret will live. Archie puts his gun down and accidentally tosses the coin over his shoulder. When he bends down to get it, Dr. Perret shoots him in the thigh. He grabs his gun back, saying: "For fuckssake, why did you do that? It's tails. See? It's tails. Looks. Tails. It was tails."

The FutureMouse scene unfolds. Archie takes Millat's bullet in the thigh and falls, shattering the mouse's cage. For a moment, we see into a perfect, pretend future where the narrator wonders which television demographics would like to see the following "endgames." Because the media reports the identical Magid and Millat as the shooter, they both do community service as punishment. Irie and Joshua become lovers and in 2000, travel to Jamaica with Hortense and Irie's "fatherless" daughter. According to the narrator, Irie's daughter, "feels free as Pinocchio, a puppet clipped of paternal strings." On New Year's Eve, 1999, Archie and Samad play blackjack with Clara and Alsana in O'Connell's, which has finally opened its doors to women. While describing these endearing "endgames," the narrator and Archie acknowledge that projecting a perfect future would deny the inevitability of the future quickly becoming the imperfect past. The narrator brings up one final "endgame," wondering which viewers saw "a bleeding man slumped across a table" and which ones saw the mouse escape. Archie watched the mouse run away, and thought: "Go on my son!"


In the last two chapters of the novel, we find ourselves on the cusp of another New Year. It is almost 1992, and as with all other New Year's Eves, we expect a great moment of change at the stroke of midnight. Indeed, this New Year buzzes back and forth between the various characters' experiences of the FutureMouse conference. Smith's writing style in this section particularly mimics a camera cutting quickly from one viewpoint to another. The effect is a fast-paced, creates an almost surreal collage of experiences that capture the tense energy of the conference, and makes the climax seem slower in coming: in the moment when Archie jumps in front of Millat's gun.

Smith uses the last two chapters to finish fleshing out the concept of heredity. The setting of the FutureMouse conference lends an overarching irony to the scene. At a conference celebrating man's ability to precisely control a mouse's fate, we come to understand that immigrants cannot control their fates or the loss of their identities. Millat takes Samad's bench carving as a challenge: his father could not leave his mark on history, so Millat will. Ironically, while Samad can be proud of Pande's insurgence, he will never understand his Millat's rebellion. Samad cannot see the connection between ancestor and son. Although Millat does not fulfill Samad's wish of honoring Bengali tradition, he does honor his family legacy by emulating Pande.

In the same vein, while rebelling against him, Joshua honors his father. Unlike Millat, who scorns his father's failure and strives to be like Pande, Joshua lauds his father's success and, we assume, will once again strive to be like him. Therefore in carrying out his fundamentalist plan, Millat honors something fundamental, in the roots of his family. Joshua achieves the same, but by dropping his fundamentalist plan. While fundamentals and fundamentalism are not the same, one can lead to the other.

While Millat and Joshua honor their heritage at the novel's end, Magid and Irie separate themselves from theirs. Magid becomes his father's worst nightmare, a real Englishman in love with "certainty" and security. Irie does not disappoint her parents, but definitively rejects their tendency to dwell in the past. By having a "fatherless" daughter, Irie leaves the future as wide open as possible for her offspring. However, Irie fails to recognize that a great deal of Bowden character comes from the maternal line. Therefore, her daughter will undoubtedly follow in her footsteps, and by extension, Clara's, Hortense's, Ambrosia's, and all the mothers before them. We last see Irie surrounded by a fitting mélange of the old and new, the Bowdenist and the Chalfenist. Irie's story ends in Jamaica with her traditional grandmother, her "fatherless" daughter, and her Chalfenist husband, on the eve of a new millennium full of opportunities.

After the novel's continual examination of the role of chance and coincidence, the last chapter is a whirlwind. Cause and effect are as jumbled as the people, actions, and emotions in the conference room. The mouse is the opposite of Irie's daughter-its origin and fate are known, which in theory means it is not free. However, if someone like Dr. Perret can change so completely, from Nazi conspirator to benevolent pioneer, there is hope even for the mouse to overcome his genetic programming. White Teeth ends with an optimistic message. Even a mouse doomed to die in genetically predicted stages has a chance to change his fate. By extension, even people who seem doomed to lives of mediocrity and anonymity can reinvent themselves in mere moments. Just like the mouse, even someone as depraved as Dr. Perret can turn himself around and become benevolent. At the same time, even someone as boring and indecisive as Archie can be impulsive at the right moment and unleash a new sense of freedom.

The final moment between Archie and the mouse recalls the day when Mo unwittingly saved Archie from committing suicide. Just as Mo saves Archie from his self-made, exhaust-filled coffin, Archie accidentally sets the mouse free from its cage. While the mouse's certain death is programmed into its genes, it still somehow has a new lease on life, equal to Archie's after his suicide attempt. Considering how far Archie has come since the opening scene, now fully claiming his status as hero, we can only hope the mouse and all other 'doomed' or 'unchangeable' people can achieve the same.