35 pages 1 hour read

Zadie Smith

The Waiter’s Wife

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1999

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Story Analysis

Analysis: “The Waiter’s Wife”

The title of the short story immediately introduces one of the main themes: The Search for Identity. The title strips Samad of his name and the complex, layered identity that name represents to him. He is identified only by his profession, though in his job he is desperate for people to see all the other facets of his identity, even fantasizing about wearing a sign that says, in all capital letters, “I AM NOT […] JUST A WAITER. I HAVE BEEN A STUDENT, A SCIENTIST, A SOLDIER […]” The sign continues for several lines, giving his wife’s name and detailing their hopes for the future. Despite this wish for visibility, the title reflects the way most people see Samad and Alsana: The waiter and the waiter’s wife.

The title is not actually focused on Samad; it’s focused on Alsana, who is similarly stripped of an identity and, what’s more, objectified as a possession of the waiter (Samad). This apparent subordination of the wife to her husband introduces the theme of Gender Roles and Expectations. To her slightly younger niece, Neena, Alsana appears to be a traditional, submissive wife, and Neena needles her for knowing so little about her husband’s past and his life outside the home.