White Teeth

White Teeth Summary and Analysis of Chapters 4-5

Chapter 4- Three Coming

Clara tells Archie she is pregnant, and he shares his good news around MorganHero, the Direct Mail company where his job consists of deciding how various things should be folded. Archie's boss, Kelvin Hero, calls him into his office. He explains that Clara's being black made people uncomfortable at the last company event, and he pays Archie fifty pounds worth of luncheon vouchers not to bring her to the next event. Archie is too focused on Clara's pregnancy to be offended and accepts the vouchers. Because Alsana is pregnant as well, she and Clara become accidental friends as their husbands did years before. The women eat on a park bench along with Neena, whom Alsana calls Niece-of-Shame. Alsana has picked strong potential names for her unborn twins. To her horror, Clara wants to name her daughter Irie, which means "Ok, cool, peaceful." Neena ridicules Alsana for refusing to talk to Samad, which she sees as traditional Indian submissiveness. Alsana points out that she and Clara would be foolish to always talk everything out with their husbands, because when they do "look at [things] close up," they are disappointed by their unimpressive and unheroic mates. Clara has to agree.

Chapter 5- The Root Canals of Alfred Archibald Jones and Samad Miah Iqbal

We go back to World War II, when Archie and Samad first meet. Archie is seventeen and Samad nineteen when they are assigned to the same English Army tank on a mission through Eastern Europe. Rather than fight, they restore destroyed equipment and paths. Archie drives the tank and Samad is the radio operator. Their homosexual captain, Thomas Dickinson-Smith, has a reputation for picking on others and is disliked by all who serve under him. From the first day, Archie is fascinated by Samad and stares at him. One day, Samad rants about how his heritage makes him above ordinary army service. His great-grandfather, Mangal Pande, shot the first bullet in the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Samad claims that he would be an officer were it not for his right hand, crippled in the Indian Army by a fellow soldier's misfired gun. It irks Samad especially to be working under Dickinson-Smith, who is not a soldier at heart, but a privileged boy descended from a line of soldiers. One day, something in the tank explodes and the men are forced to stop in a Bulgarian village. Archie and Samad go exploring first, and when they return, all the men are dead. Dickinson-Smith has killed himself rather than be killed. Just then, the War comes to an end. However, without a properly working radio, Samad and Archie are unaware and continue to patrol the village. The two men spend so much time together that they develop an accidental friendship, "the kind of friendship an Englishman makes on holiday, that he can make only on holiday. A friendship that crosses class and color, a friendship that takes as its basis physical proximity and survives because the Englishman assumes the physical proximity will not continue." They go to a church-turned-hospital where people condemned to death wrote all over the walls as their last act on Earth. Samad is touched by the people's determination to leave a legacy, but Archie says if it had been him, he would have made his last act on Earth sex, or at least masturbation. Samad becomes addicted to the powdered morphine he finds. On one of his morphine highs, Samad predicts: "You will have dinner with my wife and I in the year 1975. When we are big-bellied men sitting on our money-mountains. Somehow we will meet... We will know each other throughout our lives!"

One day, some children tell the men that a "Dr. Sick" is hiding out in one of the local houses. Soon after, they meet Russian soldiers who inform them the War is over. However, they are still seeking Dr. Sick, a.k.a. Dr. Marc-Pierre Perret, who conspired with the Nazis on their notorious eugenics projects. Samad pretends to be of high rank, though he is only high on morphine, as they join the Russians' raid on Dr. Perret. They find him weak and huddled in a room, crying tears of blood due to a condition called diabetic retinopathy. Later that night, Samad plays poker with the Russians. When there is nothing left to gamble, he claims Dr. Perret as his prize. Samad and Archie drive away with Dr. Perret, and Samad reveals his plan: they will kill Dr. Perret and become heroes. Archie manages to wrestle Dr. Perret away from the delirious Samad and walks him away at gunpoint. After a few minutes, Samad hears a shot in the distance. Then Archie returns, limping and bleeding. The narrator recounts: "He looked his tender age, the lamps making his blond hair translucent, his moon-shaped face lit up like a big baby, entering life head first."


Alsana does not want to "look at [things] close up," as Smith urges the reader to. She assumes that close examination of her marriage will lead only to disappointment. However, Smith has already cautioned the reader to pay heed to details, to "look at [things] close up" or miss the richness hidden within them. In Chapter 2, Smith confirms that Alsana misses out on more than aggravation by keeping her marriage silent. Samad (and Archie) have had interesting lives, as evidenced by the story of their military service. They are not just middle-aged, middle-class and boring, but have seen men killed, or even killed men themselves.

Chapters 4 and 5 continue the theme of accidents or coincidences. Samad and Archie, and later, their wives, have 'accidental friendships'. Samad and Archie are isolated in Bulgaria after the rest of their group dies, and they must rely on one another for safety and companionship. Proximity and necessity allow them to traverse class and racial boundaries and become lifelong friends. Years later, Alsana and Clara also become 'accidental friends' because their husbands are friends. Therefore, their friendship is a coincidence based on an earlier coincidence.

In Chapter 5, Smith begins fleshing out the theme of teeth. She titles the chapter "The Root Canals of Alfred Archibald Jones and Samad Miah Iqbal," but we soon discover that the story has nothing to do with dentistry. Instead, Smith uses the term "root canal" to depict the examination of a person's past to the very root of it: the most sensitive part. Alsana and Clara know only their husbands' 'calcified' facades, but do not attempt to expose what lies beneath. Usually, a root canal is a dreaded, painful thing, which implies that looking into one's past, or "looking at [things] close up" can be painful. It also implies that something within the tooth-within the past-is rotten. Indeed, the story of Dr. Perret proves a "rotten" event in Archie and Samad's past, whether it is heroic or not. However, just as one must submit to a root canal to preserve the tooth, one must dig into one's past to secure one's future and be saved from anonymity.

Through her metaphor, Smith implies that to make a life truly worthwhile, we must consider it with all the weight of the past and future. Samad strives to do this, but places so much importance on his heritage and future legacy that it is difficult for him to enjoy the present. Conversely, Archie, with roots firmly in England, is not so concerned with his heritage or legacy and lives a life of indecision.