79 pages 2 hours read

Zadie Smith

White Teeth

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2000

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Part 3, Chapters 11-13Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Part 3: “Irie 1990, 1907”

Chapter 11 Summary: “The Miseducation of Irie Jones”

Irie, now 15, is anxious to adhere to Western beauty standards (partly in the hopes of attracting Millat’s attention). Her identity as a woman of color is constantly challenged by her surroundings. One day, in school, she proposes that “the dark lady” Shakespeare write about is black, and her teacher shoots the idea down:

‘No, dear, she’s dark. She’s not black in the modern sense. There weren’t any… well, Afro-Carri-bee-yans in England at that time, dear. […] I mean I can’t be sure, but it does seem terribly unlikely, unless she was a slave of some kind, and he’s unlikely to have written a series of sonnets to a lord and then a slave, is he?’ (226).

So, essentially, Irie is told that a white man could not find a black woman, like her, desirable.

In desperation, Irie books an appointment to have her hair relaxed. However, she does not tell the hairdresser that she recently washed her hair; as a result, the ammonia burns most of it away. She is therefore forced to get extensions but refuses to allow the hairdresser time to fully braid the hair in.

Irie sets off for the Iqbals’ house, where Neena and her girlfriend Maxine react with horror to Irie’s new hairstyle.

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