35 pages 1 hour read

Zadie Smith

The Waiter’s Wife

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1999

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Character Analysis

Samad Iqbal

Samad is one of the story’s protagonists, and he comes to England with his much younger wife Alsana. He is very good friends with Archie, a British friend he fought alongside in World War II. In Bangladesh, he worked as a food inspector—a highly skilled, respected profession—but he was unable to get work in this field in England, meaning he must work as a waiter at the Indian restaurant The Palace, which is owned by his cousin. Samad is a terrible waiter, both not enjoying the work and finding it beneath him. His work environment is hostile, and Samad constantly receives “abuse from Shiva and others; condescension from Ardashir” (Paragraph 24). Samad knows that he has a complex, multifaceted identity, but he fears that his position as a service worker renders all his other capacities and interests invisible to the people around him. He never articulates this identity outside of his daydreams, instead becoming quite meek and deferential to the main antagonists in his life: Alsana and Ardashir. However, Samad can have “an equally melodramatic nature when prompted,” (Paragraph 51) leading to an explosive relationship with Alsana. He does seem to wish Alsana was “easy,” but accepts that her feistiness is “the way with young women these days” (Paragraph 42).