Continuing on the theme of cultural hybridity, let’s finish up these British Lit blogs by discussing the melding of East and West, and tradition and the modern-world that appears in ‘The Waiter’s Wife’ from Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. The focus of the story is the character of Alsana, a Bangladeshi woman in an arranged marriage with an older man. Alsana represents the East and tradition, while her niece, Neena, represents the West and the modern world. Alsana is subscribes to a more traditional Bangladeshi, Muslim view of the world, especially of marriage. She believes that silence is the best way to approach a marriage, that getting to know your husband is worse than not knowing them when first married. She does not even want her husband in the room while she gets an ultrasound, because it’s lady business. On the other hand, is Neena, who cannot comprehend marrying someone that has been arranged for you, doesn’t understand silence as an approach to marriage, and makes fun of Alsana for not wanting her husband to have a part in her pregnancy. The two butt heads often, each seeming to think the other is in the wrong. Neena wants Alsana to act more Western, to fit into modern London of the 1970’s. Alsana thinks Neena is shameful, calling her Niece-of-Shame.
What is interesting is that Alsana claims to be very traditional, but she sometimes acts in ways that contradict the beliefs she states out loud. In particular is the contrast between the belief that silence is the best approach to marriage and the way she actually acts in her marriage. Alsana is not silent towards her husband at all; on the contrary she yells at him a lot. She is a woman who is stuck between the traditions of her old home and the modern ways of her new one. Even more interesting is this take on Alsana and Clara, the Jamaican-born wife of her husband’s friend:
“In fact, both Alsana and Clara are emissaries of the modern British family, although they do not have much in common with either the “standard” British family or with each other.”
Despite the fact that Alsana seemingly wants to separate herself from British society and traditions, she is in fact representative of the modern British woman, and her family is representative of the new British family. Yet another way in which Alsana is a symbol of cultural hybridity.