Contemporary Lit discussion promptWe have, in this course, read about and discussed the significance of allusion as a method of understanding the contemporary. Allusion is often a shortcut to meaning (as are symbols and other related tropes). White Teeth by Zadie Smith is filled with various allusions in various media (though more literary than others). Identify a moment of allusion in the text and explore its meaning and the route to its meaning. In other words, how does the reference to something outside the text help us understand a specific moment in the text? Be as specific as possible. Explore carefully the hows and whys of your particular allusion. As always, one to two pages of double spaced response is required. Obviously you will need to quote the text but may also want to find and quote the original (alluded to) text to establish the needed context.
Kristy Poisson’s Response to it:“…he was dressed, as one might expect of an elderly English bird in Wonderland—a suede waistcoat and a tweed jacket, and a watch on a gold chain” (Smith 141). That is the description given of Mr. J. P. Hamilton from Irie’s perspective during the children’s Journey to deliver “God’s bounty” on the Harvest Festival. This is an allusion to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Though Irie compares him to an “elderly eagle” it is not hard for the reader to imagine him having a similar appearance to the White Rabbit of Carroll’s story. The rabbit likewise is covering in white hair, wears a waistcoat and pocket watch on a chain and ushers Alice into a disorienting and bizarre land, much the same as Mr. J. P. Hamilton does to the children in this chapter of the book.
In the contemporary world, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a well-known and beloved story, no doubt thanks to Walt Disney and his whimsical animated feature. Because of this popularity, it is easy for the contemporary reader of White Teeth to see this allusion and immediately be able to make the connections between what happens to Alice once she meets the White Rabbit, and what happens here with Irie (and Millat and Magid) once they meet Mr. J. P. Hamilton. During this scene in Smith’s novel, the children are at first shooed away by Mr. J. P. Hamilton who repeatedly says “Good-bye” and hurries to rush back into his rabbit hole of a house. The children watch him as his image through the frosted glass “merged with the brown flecks of the household furnishings and the former all but disappeared” (142). This is no doubt familiar to us as we remember Alice watching the White Rabbit disappear into the many paths of Wonderland. Eventually, both Alice and the children of Smith’s novel, enter the rabbit hole and come into contact with a disorienting world in which they do not fit, Alice because she is of reality, and the children because they are “dark-skinned” and “from a different class, a different era” than Mr. J. P. Hamilton.
There are several very serious themes that are cleverly disguised in Carroll’s seemingly childish story, including politics and race, and these themes are likewise introduced to the children during their visit into Mr. J. P. Hamilton’s PTSD riddled Wonderland. It is here that we first see the children come into contact with a very prejudice, insensitive world view of people of color, thanks to the culture Mr. J. P. Hamilton lived in and expressed. Irie becomes upset by what he is saying about the war he fought in and the darkness of skin. It is confusing and scary for her, much like Alice’s moments of disorientation and anxiety while she tries to find a way home from Wonderland.
I think that Zadie Smith used this allusion here because it was something extremely familiar to just about everyone in this contemporary world (unless you live completely under a rock) and so it easily presented these conflicts and confused emotions that the children felt being exposed to some of the cruelties of the world for the first time.
My Response to Her Response: The allusion to Alice in Wonderland here is definitely showing the very serious issues of Racism and classism of the time. Even the character of The White rabbit in Alice in Wonderland could be viewed as being racist himself. He is constantly running away from Alice and not giving her the time of day because he sees his own prior appointment as more important and superior to helping her and guiding her where she wants to go. He sees her as inferior and not important enough to be paid attention to and helped. This could be seen as him not wanting to be associated with certain people whom he sees himself superior too he tries to avoid them the way Mr. J. P. Hamilton does with the children. The children are darker skinned than Mr. J. P. Hamilton and he does not like them. He sees them as different from him because of that but different from him in a bad way and it causes him to not want to associate with them, or be seen with them. He sees himself as superior to them, so does not want to talk to them and does his best to rid himself of them so he doesn’t have to worry about having racially inferior people in his life. Yes, It’s true that this allusion to Alice In Wonderland could be there to show the children’s first exposure to Racism and classism in a very hidden clever way. But in other ways it might also be used to show how they are surrounded by it and constantly exposed to it yet don’t realize it because when they were exposed to it before they were more blind and oblivious to it because in other instances it was not so much staring them in the faces and it wasn’t so blatantly obvious. This was how the world worked what their parents probably experienced their entire lives and the children knew it existed but did not truly understand it, understand what their parents went through, what they were going to experience their whole lives until this experience and exposure to it. This may be to show that this was their first understanding of racism and classism, that this was how the world viewed them, how the world worked, how the world was going to treat them their entire lives. From this point on this was how they were going to experience the world around them.