79 pages 2 hours read

Zadie Smith

White Teeth

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2000

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Character Analysis

Alfred Archibald (“Archie”) Jones

Archie Jones is Clara’s husband, Irie’s father, and the best friend of Samad Iqbal, whom he met while serving in World War II. He is the only major character in the novel who comes from, in his own words, “[g]ood honest English stock” (84). As a result, his relationship to his history is uniquely uncomplicated; in fact, the reader learns almost nothing about the family Archie comes from.

This normality extends to much of Archie’s life and personality: “A dull childhood, a bad marriage, a dead-end job—that classic triumvirate” (12). His attempts to distinguish himself typically go nowhere; he abandons the idea of being a war correspondent, for instance, and settles for a career “designing the way all kinds of things should be folded—envelopes, direct mail, brochures, leaflets” (12). He is not particularly intelligent or ambitious, and his one claim to fame—tying for 13th at the Olympics as a track cyclist—actually reflects his mediocrity:

[T]he thing about Archie was he never did get any better. 62.8 seconds. Which is a pretty good time, world-class standard, even. But for three years he got precisely 62.8 seconds on every single lap […] That kind of inability to improve is really very rare.