51 pages 1 hour read

Zadie Smith

On Beauty

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2005

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Important Quotes

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“These are placed in triumphant, deliberate sequence: Kiki’s great-great-grandmother, a house-slave; great-grandmother, a maid; and then her grandmother, a nurse. It was nurse Lily who inherited this whole house from a benevolent white doctor with whom she had worked closely for twenty years, back in Florida. An inheritance on this scale changes everything for a poor family in America: it makes them middle class.”

(Part 3, Chapter 3, Page 17)

Whereas Howard doesn’t have a history he wants to celebrate, Kiki has a sense of confidence that is tied to her proud family legacy. The history of Kiki’s family proves a blueprint for Kiki’s characterizations: Strong, loving, resilient, and proud. This quote is also important because it emphasizes the importance of inherited wealth in America; inheriting a house completely changed the socio-economic status of Kiki’s family.

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“Jerome’s lengthy virginity (which Howard now presumed had come to an end) represented, in Howard’s opinion, an ambivalent relationship to the earth and its inhabitants, which Howard had trouble either celebrating or understanding. Jerome was not quite of the body somehow, and this had always unnerved his father.”

(Part 1, Chapter 3, Page 22)

This quote emphasizes the lack of connection between Howard and Jerome. Jerome’s Christianity is not an effect of being raised by Howard, so Howard feels far away from Jerome emotionally. Chief among Howard’s inability to understand his son is the issue of Jerome’s virginity. It is baffling to Howard why Jerome would still be a virgin, which further emphasizes the empathic gap between Howard and Jerome.

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“Monty saw his chance and took it. Howard would have done the same. To enact with one sudden tug (like a boy removing his friend’s shorts in front of the opposing team) a complete exposure, a cataclysmic embarrassment—this is one of the purest academic pleasures. One doesn’t have to deserve it; one has only to leave oneself open to it.”

(Part 2, Chapter 4, Page 29)

This quote emphasizes the competitive nature of academia. Monty and Howard don’t get along because they directly engage one another in academic debate, confronting each other’s egos and publicly challenging their ideas. It is notable that Howard and Monty are of equal blame in their feud. Attacks are not earned; they simply exist as part of the competitive discourse in academia. This highlights the absurdity of their argument and the myopic nature of academia; two conflicts Smith criticizes as much as she highlights as humanistic.