White Teeth - Zadie Smith's broad comic vision of a tentative state of British racial harmony
Despite the fact that the novel takes an occasionally dark tone in its depiction of race relations in modern Britain, Zadie Smith's novel White Teeth overall presents an optimistic vision of race relations in modern England. The novel depicts how friendship and romance can transgress both religious and racial barriers in modern English life, even though at times these barriers can create rifts between brothers and husbands and wives as the younger and older generations in the novel negotiate the rocky terrain of a newly multinational, multiethnic, and multi-religious society. The novel ends with a depiction of a redemption and salvation of Samal Iqabal and Archie Jones, who, through their long-standing friendship, mutually show the potential for love between friends to transgress the prejudices of both White and Bengali peoples living in North London, prejudices that they occasionally manifest but are able to overcome because of their forces of character.
True, one could argue that Samal's treatment of his sons shows that racial relations in modern Britain are often difficult. One of Samal's twin son Magid, becomes a cool representative of modern Indian scientific progress after being sent abroad, losing his humanity in the process. The other twin son, Millat who remains at home is intemperate and becomes disappointment, in his father's eyes, to all of his hopes and aspirations for his family, as he falls into fundamentalism and fritters away his opportunities in life. But despite Samal's own frequent displays of narrow mindedness that clearly affect his son's development, Samal's early and foundational friendship with the Cockney man Archie Jones balances some of the intemperate ideology of the man and some of his own excesses of character that affect the development of his sons.
Both men, the novel, suggests, were poorly served by the British Empire, as a Bengali and as a supposedly lower class White men. Both Samal and Archie served together in the so-called Buggered Battalion during World War II. There, Jones' oppression as a Cockney due to the British class ideology of the time united him, despite the frequent racism inherent in the North London suburb he hailed from, with Iqabal, who was likewise able to overcome his own inner prejudices because of his greater need for friendship, love, and comradeship, needs that he later denies the son he sends away to be raised in Bangladesh.
The friendship of Samal and Archie shows how the need for human companionship, to say nothing of sexual desire often transgresses racial intolerance and hatred within the world of the novel White Teeth. For example, because he sees himself as ugly, Archie Jones proves willing to look outside of his own racial group for happiness in his marriage. Thus he marries a beautiful woman of Caribbean ancestry named Clara. Clara wishes to escape the limits of her own conservative religious upbringing, so she escapes into Archie's arms, despite her loveliness…