Year of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

English (Literature)

Department or School/College

Department of English

Committee Chair

Kathleen Kane


diaspora, hybridity theory, On Beauty, postcolonial studies, White Teeth, Zadie Smith


University of Montana


In this thesis I use this guideline or lens of post-hybridity to examine Smith’s novels White Teeth and On Beauty and demonstrate the ways in which they problematize hybridity as well as the instances when post-hybridity more accurately describes her work where hybridity falters and fails. In A New World Order, Caryl Phillips writes that Smith’s work evokes the questions “Who are we? Why are we here?” (287), and those are the primary questions I address, focusing on the younger generation in Smith’s novels. They are questions I would not be able to attempt to answer without post-hybridity. The first chapter, “The Birds, the Bees, the Flowers, and the Trees,” introduces the central characters of the two novels, focusing on the interaction among the families as a metaphor for cultural inclusion and exclusion. The chapter develops around the theme of horticulture, family trees, and seed-sowing birds within Smith’s works. The characters in White Teeth and On Beauty frequently hedge themselves in, protect their families as they would a garden plot, and chase off or exterminate any pests that cross the border around their gardens, as cultures frequently do as well. Smith makes it clear, however, that intrusions and crossovers are often as beneficial as they are damaging. This chapter thus explores the struggle between sameness and difference, which is a process, a continuous permutation that produces unhybridizable characters. The discussion of families segues into Chapter Two, “Through the Looking Glass,” which explores the notion of roots in its many manifestations and what it means to the post-hybrid individuals of White Teeth and On Beauty. This chapter explores the motif of mirrors and fragmentation in relation to the creation and maintenance of identity. One must piece together reflections in a manner similar to Stuart Hall’s idea of “associational identification.” These fragmentary reflections are not pure, untainted, and whole, and this can lead to a sense of dislocation and “wrongness.” As a result, many of Smith’s characters search for primordial purity and authenticity in their ancestral roots, which are represented in White Teeth by physical roots such as those of teeth and hair. “The Final Space,” the third and concluding chapter, focuses on social space and associational identification as an alternative to more restrictive familial or historical-cultural means of self-identification. The final spaces represent both a warning against prejudice and the hope of mirrored understanding and the blossoming of a landscape of inclusion.

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© Copyright 2008 Andrea Lea Armstrong