59 pages 1 hour read

Zadie Smith

Swing Time

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2016

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Searching for Meaning Instead of Freedom

Can individuals who live in a society ever be truly free? Smith explores how freedom is limited when individuals are a part of society, arguing that people are actually often searching for meaning when they believe they’re looking for freedom. Freedom entails rejecting society’s expectations, which can isolate an individual. Finding meaning is a way of being a free individual within society.

As a young woman, the independently minded Hawa wants to reject her society’s expectations of her as a woman. Although her community believes that a woman without children is like a tree without leaves, Hawa enjoys her job as a teacher, and the freedom to dance and dress how she wants. After a couple of years, however, Hawa gives up independence, marries a conservative Muslim man, and transforms the way she dresses and socializes with others. Though this transformation is upsetting to the narrator, Fernando reminds the narrator that finding meaning can be an alternate way of finding freedom. Hawa cannot freely choose what to do with her life: While her brother has the privilege of studying in the US, Hawa’s father would never support her in the same endeavor. Hawa’s culture and socio-economic forces her to be submissive to men.