35 pages 1 hour read

Zadie Smith

The Waiter’s Wife

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1999

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Literary Context: Postcolonial Literature

“The Waiter’s Wife” is an excerpt from Smith’s debut novel White Teeth, one of the most influential postcolonial novels of the early 21st century. Postcolonial literature deals with the lingering impacts of Europe’s colonization of the Global South. It may be set in formerly colonized countries or—as in the case of White Teeth—in the center of the former empire, among immigrants and the children of immigrants from those former colonies. Smith’s cast of characters, in both “The Waiter’s Wife” and the novel of which it forms a part, is multiethnic and multicultural, reflecting the diversity of British life in the post-colonial era.

Postcolonial literature strives to give voice to experiences that have been silenced or ignored as a result of colonial racism. It “attempts to recapture the indigenous histories of the ‘Other’—the subalterns, or those regarded as ‘inferior,’ who are categorized as such as a result of race, social status, or ethnicity” (Darrow, Kathy D. Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, vol. 254, 2011). Many postcolonial texts engage with The Search for Identity: Who am I, and where do I come from? Identity is central to “The Waiter’s Wife,” and almost all of the characters struggle to find their own path.