35 pages 1 hour read

Zadie Smith

The Waiter’s Wife

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1999

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Symbols & Motifs


Food—the abundance of it or the scarcity of it—serves as a motif throughout the story, emphasizing the strength of the characters’ relationships. Samad and Alsana’s major fight occurs because Alsana keeps yelling, “where is our food?” (Paragraph 48). However, Samad responds by pulling out all of the frozen meat in the freezer and reminding Alsana that she has food, just not the “prepared meals, yogurts and tinned spaghettis” she prefers (Paragraph 51). This exchange emphasizes the theme of Modernity Versus Tradition. Samad expects Alsana to be a traditional wife like his mother and cook meals from scratch. However, Alsana does not view this as food and instead wants to experience the modern comfort of prepared meals. This argument additionally highlights the various Gender Roles and Expectations at play in the story and hints that Alsana is not as traditional as she claims to be.

Additionally, food serves as a way for characters to build community. Alsana and Clara bond over food throughout their pregnancies, enjoying “savory dough-like balls, crumbly Indian sweets shot through with the colours of the kaleidoscope, thin pastry with spiced beef inside, salad with onion” (Paragraph 70). There is an abundance of food—seemingly homemade items—shared between the women as they commiserate and discuss baby names.