A Comparative Analysis of Zadie Smith's White Teeth and Anita and Me by Meera Syal

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About this sample


Words: 2871 |

Pages: 6|

15 min read

Published: Mar 14, 2019

Words: 2871|Pages: 6|15 min read

Published: Mar 14, 2019

Smith and Anita and Me by Meera Syal

Zadie Smiths White Teeth is about three different cultures, and three families spanning three generations. Characters include Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal, best friends who spend their teenage years together and raise families in the Cricklewood area of London. The novel follows their experiences in the war and later on, the exploits of their families as they grow up and mature.

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Anita and Me by Meera Syal is a semi-autobiographical novel about Meena Kumar, a young Punjabi girl growing up in Tollington, a small mining village somewhere between Birmingham and Wolverhampton. It details Meenas desperate attempts to be accepted by Anita Rutter, leader of the local in-crowd, and her desire for a normal English life with fish fingers! Fried! And chips!, .

Anita and Me and White Teeth are the first works from the authors, who are both English-born Indians. They share a number of themes such as family relationships, history, language and dialect, location and religion. Family relationships in both novels are seen to be intimate and caring, and the arrival of Meenas grandmother in Anita and Me demonstrates the ease and comfort with which the family lives:

I knew Nanima was going to be fun when she rolled backwards into the farty settee and let out a howl of laughter.

And similarly in White Teeth the loving family arrangement is portrayed in numerous places: a very happy marriage shed be satisfied. She would challenge anyone to show her a happier marriage than hers relationships in White Teeth could also be described as somewhat unconventional because of the nature of the inter-personal relationships between some of the characters in parts of the novel, f0or example the progressive relationship between the Iqbal twins and Irie Jones. However, there are also differences between the texts when considering the relationships between family members. In Anita and Me the focus of the reader is placed solely on the Kumar family, with the emphasis specifically on Young Meena. Alternatively, in White Teeth there are three families to learn about and the reader has no one person or family as a priority. In addition, each family in White Teeth is unlike in terms of composition, culture and beliefs. It could be said that the families in White Teeth show a good cross-section of London, where the novel is set; whereas the Kumar family in Anita and Me are a minority culture in the small mining village of Tollington in the West Country. This is a stark contrast between the two novels and the characters found in them.

Both novels explore the importance of family history and background, although the two families with a history behind them are not at all similar. White Teeths Iqbal family are supposedly descended from Mangal Pande, a well-known Indian radical who Samad holds deeply in his heart as a hero for his actions during the war. This is highlighted throughout the novel as Samad defines to his sons just how important pride, honour and loyalty is, but is also demonstrated especially well in his conversations with Archie and Mickey at the pool bar:

I can see no greater honour than fighting for your country mangal Pande was indeed a great man.

History has also been used to signify an integral part of White Teeth. The inclusion in the novel of a diagram of Irie Jones family tree two-thirds of the way into the novel represents the importance of knowing your roots and background. The chapters have been divided into parts entitled The Root Canals of which is expressive of the authors feelings on heritage and culture. The title parts are important for two main reasons. Firstly, The Root Canals of shows how history goes way back and can shape us into what we become, and that therefore it is imperative that we trace our Root Canals. Secondly, the titles are relevant to the title of the novel as a whole: White Teeth (because teeth have root canals), and place an emphasis on the fact that no matter how different we all are, we still have White Teeth and Root Canals.

Anita and Me explains how Meenas parents came from India to escape persecution, and Meenas father tells her many colourful stories about his past and Meenas history, heritage and family background:

At the young age of sixteen, two brothers were married to two sisters. I was one of those brothers. The other is your Uncle Masi.

The theme of history consequently raises the issue of dialect, language and sense of belonging or alienation. The Indian aspect of Meenas homelife is shown to be predominant in Anita and Me , with random Punjabi words inserted into normal English sentences, evidently to give the impression of a dual-nationality household: jamardani! You look like a film star, Kumar-saab! Meena beti

This method is a highly successful way of personalising the text. In addition, Meera Syal has used language and phonetics to portray the Tollington dialect in the novel. The Tollington dialect is a heavily northern accent phonetics are a particularly effective method used here: Ey, yowm on t corner, int ya? Meybbe yow wont ave t tell em.

Dialects can offer people a sense of acceptance and belonging. They are localised and reflect a certain area in this case the area in question is a specific part of northern England. In White Teeth language is used widely by Zadie Smith to place an emphasis on the speech in the novel. She does this by using a number of techniques but mainly through slang and phonetics once again. The short, sharp, harsh London accent:

Simprortant. Hifan is the Don.

The softer, smoother Arabic:

Radd-ul-mukhtar makruh

and the laid-back, comical yet serious Jamaican accent:

Yew lissnin, pickney? Mr Topps try-in to ex-plain sumting very im-par-tent to yew.

It could be argued that the three cultures in White Teeth reflect London, where the novel is set. London is a multi-cultural society and home to a number of various dialects and languages, for example, variations from South to North London, from East to West London, the languages of immigrants, or the language in specific areas of London, such as Chinatown.

Although it is possible to note similarities in the novels, it can also be said that they are different for a number of factors. Firstly, they are set in opposite ends of the country, one in the north and one in the south. Lifestyles across the country vary greatly so it can be argued that the families involved do not share that much in common because they have been exposed to two different ways of life. The novels use different language and tone because of their locations and this, as a result, sets them apart. The scale in which the novels are set are conflicting the Kumar family in Anita and Me from a small village, and the Iqbal, Jones, and Chalfen families in White Teeth in London, a large city.

Secondly, Anita and Me concerns a nine-year-old girl who was the first generation born in England where the novel is set, and so she is familiar with the English way of life. On the contrary, White Teeth is concerned with Samad, a much older Indian immigrant who is less familiar with English culture because he spent his early years in another country, another continent. Such differences between the two means that they are presented through alternative viewpoints and reach out to different types of readers, and as a result cannot be too closely related. Also, concerning viewpoints, Zadie Smith and Meera Syal have given contrasting approaches to the text through the narration of the plot of their novels. While White Teeth is written in the third person and allows the reader to act as a bystander and see everything, Anita and Me is in the first person and so is more narrow and personalised, and possibly presents the reader with a biased account of the events in the novel.

Finally, religion is one of the major differences between the novels. White Teeth contains Jehovahs Witnesses, Muslims and atheists. Anita and Me portrays just one religion that of Hinduism. However, they are alike because they both present religion as a lifestyle Hinduism in Anita and Me and Islam in White Teeth. Religion is a way of life in each novel and both depict an atheist family in addition to the religious Iqbal and Kumar families the Rutter family in Anita and Me and the Chalfens in White Teeth. White Teeth shows a range of devotion and commitment to religion, from the de Lord chose me of the Jehovahs Witnesses, to the occasional mosque visit of the Iqbal family, to the blatant ignorance of the atheist Chalfen family. Anita and Me places less emphasis on religion than White Teeth, and some may say that Marcus Chalfens infatuation with FutureMouse in White Teeth makes science almost like a replacement for religion, and places it on a par with Christianity, Islam, or any of the other major world religions.

Both authors use from and language to set the novels apart from other contemporary literature. Similes and metaphors are a good way of providing an individual touch to a novel. George Orwell once said A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image. The text in White Teeth is littered with similes and metaphors to add a descriptive touch to the novel: face as long as shit. Bouncing off the walls like a broken horse stored up in the genes like baldness or testicular carcinoma.

And helps the readers imagination by using vivid imagery, as suggested by Orwell, to provoke a reaction. Likewise, Anita and Me is full of similes and metaphors, which reflect the colourful nature of the Indian culture in which Meena has grown up: like one of the ornamental statues I had seen on my Auntie Shailas shrine. They had their arms wrapped around each other and their heads lifted in silent wails, like they were howling at the stars the cracks appeared which would finally split open the china blue bowl of that summer ten cruel, angry fingers.

The language in the two novels is idiosyncratic. Both authors use language in an individual, quirky kind of way, being far from the common style presented by many contemporary writers. They appear to stray from the usual archetypal contemporary novel that the public is beginning to tire of.

White Teeth is full of semic language. A number of words appear in the text that have dual meanings this makes the novel more personal because it allows the reader to apply their own understanding of a word to the text, and therefore come up with their own interpretation of the plot and the characters involved.

Semic language can also be found in Anita and Me. It is probably more evident in Anita and Me than it is in White Teeth because the novel is seen through the eyes of a child, and a child may give a completely different meaning for a word to that of an adult. Children quite frequently perceive the meaning of a word differently to those of adults,

The diction in Anita and Me is varied according to character, and reflects the background and personality of each character. Meenas language has been specifically chosen by Syal to portray the thoughts of a young girl, while the character of Mr. Kumar, her father, has a more mature tone, and the expressive vocabulary gives the impression that he has been well educated at some point in the past. The language used by Meenas mother portrays a strict but loving parent; and the language used to describe her is apt: polite, serene even. In White Teeth the use of diction has also been adapted according to character. The younger characters in the novel tend to use swearing and slang to form the basis of their conversations : bloody brilliant!, Just fuck off, will you! , whereas the adults use a much more mature and widened vocabulary to demonstrate their worldliness. A good example of this can be found in Marcus Chalfen and the way in which he uses his language. As a scientist, there are a lot of scientific words and phrase that seep into his normal speech: We are still conducting our studies.and this work is pioneering. It is something that deserved public money and public attention, and it is work the significance of whichoverrides, in any rational persons mind the field of physics: relativity, quantum mechanics

A striking similarity between White Teeth and Anita and Me is that both use the same style of writing. This is contained in realism. Both novels seek to provide a convincing illusion of life as we would normally think of it. Such an approach to literature allows the writer to create a very full impression of what it must be like for a CERTAIN person in a CERTAIN position at a CERTAIN point in time. Zadie Smith uses realism in White Teeth to deal with mainly ethical issues. The main issue concerning ethics that it exposes is that it is a very controversial issue. Should science be allowed to use animals for research, whether for cosmetic or medical? This is a somewhat contentious issue in society nowadays, and so it seems Zadie Smith has achieved successful realism and reflects the context of modern society. Similarly, in White Teeth Meera Syal uses realism to explore issues of racism. It is an unfortunate fact of life that racism exists, and Meera Syal uses her novel to demonstrate how hard things were in small villages during the sixties and seventies. It was mainly in these times that ignorance led to racism : the naming of the dog Nigger in the novel is a prime example of this, as is bloody stupid wog. Issues confronted in the novel also include the social inequality found in a small mining village.

Another similarity between the two novels in terms of literary structure is that, aside from containing realism, they are both didactic novels. In short, they are novels with a strong underlying moral or religious theme. This explanation of a novel is particularly apt to describe White Teeth and Anita and Me because both have the themes previously mentioned in this essay running through them like deep veins they are always there even though you may not be able to see them. The religious theme, which seeks to teach the reader a lesson, is found to be the most predominant in White Teeth. This is possibly because of the presence of three religions, and it could be argued that the novel is attempting to show how all can live in harmony together. Another explanation as to why White Teeth holds a lesson on religion is the inclusion of Clara Jones, a devoted Jehovahs Witness. She is dedicated to her religion and is constantly trying to convert the other characters. It may be said that she is included in the novel to show how religion can provide a suitable way of life for many people and how commitment to a cause can do a person no end of good. In taking this point of view, White Teeth also holds strong moral undertones for the reader, small hints lying in the subtext of the novel.

Anita and Me is equally didactic. Knowing the context in which the novel is placed, I believe that the purpose of Anita and Me is to teach about racial and social equality in modern society, and how it can be achieved.

In summation, both Meera Syal and Zadie Smith have a lot in common in terms of backgrounds and roots. This is clearly evident when examining some of the styles used in the novel as there are some striking resemblances in content, from, structure and syntax. However, for all the similarities that can be found between the two, an equal number of differences can be found, such as those regarding narration, plot, and of course characters.

When reviewing Anita and Me, Yasmin Alidhai-Brown said: A delicate, beautifully observed picture of Britain as we rarely see it in our fiction diverse, mixed and mixed up with all our histories irretrievably braided together.

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And this is a view that I share on both Anita and Me and White Teeth. They mimic the current fascination of the public with exploration of tradition and culture. Such a desire for information has been fed by the media with programmes such as Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at Number 32, and films like East is East. The novels have their similarities, which make them compelling contemporary literature, following largely the same idea with similar language strategies but achieving wholly different results with these ideas. At the same time they have retained the individual touches that make the novels unique to their authors and such good fun to read.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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A Comparative Analysis of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Anita and Me by Meera Syal. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 19, 2024, from
“A Comparative Analysis of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Anita and Me by Meera Syal.” GradesFixer, 12 Mar. 2019,
A Comparative Analysis of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Anita and Me by Meera Syal. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 19 Jun. 2024].
A Comparative Analysis of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Anita and Me by Meera Syal [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Mar 12 [cited 2024 Jun 19]. Available from:
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