79 pages 2 hours read

Zadie Smith

White Teeth

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2000

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Part 1, Chapters 1-3

Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Part 1: “Archie 1974, 1945”

Chapter 1 Summary: “The Peculiar Second Marriage of Archie Jones”

On New Year’s Day, 1975, a 47-year-old man named Archie Jones tries to kill himself via carbon monoxide poisoning. However, Archie is parked in the delivery area of a halal butcher’s shop. When the owner learns what Archie is doing, he insists that he leave since they “aren’t licensed for suicides around here” (6). Archie, who decided to kill himself based on a coin flip, drives away, elated to be alive.

This marks the “first time since [Archie’s] birth [that] Life had said Yes to [him]” (6). The immediate cause of his suicide attempt was the end of a loveless, 30-year marriage to an Italian woman named Ophelia Diagilo; in fact, the vacuum tube he used in his attempt was reclaimed from his ex-wife’s house. A few days earlier, Archie had seen his fellow WWII veteran Samad Iqbal, and Samad—recently married to a 20-year-old woman named Alsana—suggested that Archie remarry. However, Archie remained convinced that “The End was unavoidably nigh” (9), partially for a reason that occur to him in flashback during his suicide attempt: Archie has led an unremarkable life.

Archie eventually finds himself outside a house advertising the “‘END OF THE WORLD’ PARTY, 1975” (16) and asks to be let in.