35 pages 1 hour read

Zadie Smith

The Waiter’s Wife

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1999

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Literary Devices

Verbal Irony

Verbal irony is a literary device in which a character says one thing but means something different. In “The Waiter’s Wife,” it most often takes the form of sarcasm. When Alsana and Samad fight, Alsana smashes two plates and then “pat[s] her stomach to indicate her unborn child and point[s] to the pieces ‘Hungry?’” (Paragraph 50). Alsana has no intention of eating the broken plates; she is purely saying it to be dramatic and escalate the fight.

To an extent, the patrons’ orders—their butchered pronunciation of Indian dishes—can be seen as verbal irony. These patrons think they are ordering food, when what they are actually saying is “Chicken Jail Fret See Wiv Chips, Fanks” (Paragraph 8). By writing out phonetically what Samad hears, Smith emphasizes that he is stuck between his two countries, not fully in either.

Situational Irony

Situational irony is a literary device in which something occurs that is the opposite of what the characters expected. Samad decided to marry Alsana because he “simply assumed a woman so young would be […] easy. But Alsana was not […] no, she was not easy” (Paragraph 42).