59 pages 1 hour read

Zadie Smith

Swing Time

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2016

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Important Quotes

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“I felt a wonderful lightness in my body, a ridiculous happiness, it seemed to come from nowhere. I’d lost my job, a certain version of my life, my privacy, yet all these things felt small and petty next to this joyful sense I had watching the dance, and following its precise rhythms in my own body.”

(Prologue, Page 4)

Early in the novel, Smith establishes the importance of dance to the narrator’s development. Dance is an escape for the narrator as a child and as an adult—dancers like Fred Astaire offer the narrator an escape from pain or unhappiness. Paradoxically, dance also reminds the narrator of the “precise rhythms in my own body.” Therefore, dance is both a metaphorical escape and a literal experience with corporeality.

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“Oh, it’s very nice and rational and respectable to say that a woman has every right to her life, to her ambitions, to her needs, and so on—it’s what I’ve always demanded myself—but as a child, no, the truth is it’s a war of attrition, rationality doesn’t come into it, not one bit, all you want from your mother is that she once and for all admit that she is your mother and only your mother, and that her battle with the rest of life is over.”

(Part 1, Chapter 3, Page 18)

The narrator longs for her mother’s undivided attention. The narrator’s mother is in many ways a role model—a Black woman who grew up in poverty, but doesn’t allow her past or society to limit her future as an intellectual with ambition and plans for change. But the narrator astutely points out that a child can never admire their mother for her independence because a child wants to be their mother’s only focus. Smith dedicates the novel to her own mother, highlighting the deeply personal nature of the relationships she is writing about.

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“But to me a dancer was a man from nowhere, without parents or siblings, without a nation or people, without obligations of any kind, and this was exactly the quality I loved.”

(Part 1, Chapter 4, Page 24)

The narrator values dancers for their anonymity and their lack of background. This feels liberating for the narrator, who, in Part 1, is starting to become aware of her own complex identity.