59 pages 1 hour read

Zadie Smith

Swing Time

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2016

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Character Analysis

The Narrator

The first-person narrator is the protagonist of the novel. She remains unnamed, emphasizing her anxiety about her identity. The narrator grows up in project housing in London with a white father and a Black mother, which complicates her sense of self. The narrator is passionate about movie musicals, inspired by great Black dancers who make manipulation of the body look easy. Her passion for dance helps the narrator escape her present and transcend her complicated relationship with her body.

The narrator is characterized through her relationships with other women, whom she envies, projects her insecurities onto, and carefully studies to understand aspects of femininity. The narrator’s mother, childhood best friend Tracey, and employer Aimee are all strong-willed, fiercely independent women, in contrast to the narrator, who struggles to feel empowered and develop goals and ambitions for herself. Tracey becomes such an aspirational ideal that the narrator has trouble seeing through her invented glamour. Her accomplished and successful mother makes the narrator feel guilty about her lack of direction or ambition. Aimee’s privileged and easy path through the world becomes a crutch, as the narrator forgoes having her own life to work as Aimee’s personal assistant.