In the novel “White Teeth” Zadie Smith depicts modern society, its values and traditions, hopes and everyday life. This novel is full of different symbols which help to unveil the message of the story and force readers to interpret events and behavior of the characters in a peculiar way. Archie Jones, the protagonist of the novel, a war veteran who tries to overcome depression and psychological pressure caused by war.
Archie likes to flip a coin in moments of indecision which symbolizes his liberation and freedom from social norms and the second chance Life gives to him.
A coin symbolizes destiny and fate for Archie. The main change concerns his understanding of the chance and destiny as an invisible hand which rules his life. For Smith, a person has to obey to general rules and law based on traditions and morals. The irony of indecision depicts the gap between expected, traditional, usual things and reality people try to escape. Smith underlines that a coin has double meaning which can symbolize great expectations and hopes, but it can be interpreted as fate and death Archie wants to face.
Smith changes this tradition depicting that a coin gives everyone a chance to try his destiny for the worse.
“Solemnly he flipped a coin (heads, life, tails, death) and felt nothing in particular when he found himself staring at the dancing lion” (Smith, 2000, p. 10). Smith leaves it to readers to decide the significance and impact of these manipulations on Archie’s life. To some extent, symbol of a coin underlines unimportance of life and Archie’s indifference towards death.
“He had flipped a coin and stood staunchly by its conclusions. This was a decided-upon suicide. In fact it was a New Year’s resolution” (Smith, 2000, p.3). It seems that subconsciously Archie is looking for a death which he has escaped during the war. Smith depicts that this is the most difficult time for all soldiers to come to grips with changes occurred in their society. “In death as he was in life and all that” (Smith, 2000, p.4).
The flip of a coin symbolizes total ignorance of the world and emptiness of the protagonist’s life. Probably, a coin itself is the same thing where a chance determines the destiny of every person. In practice, it is possible and desirable to create new law and values, because new environment forces people to change their personal priorities and morals. It is possible to say that the flip of a coin becomes a kind of religion preached by Archie which influenced life of all people around him.
On the other hand, Smith underlines unimportance of the coin which confronted with eternal values and virtues: “Nor did it lie in gender, faith, their relative ability to dance to a syncopated rhythm or open their fists to reveal a handful of gold coins. The real difference was far more fundamental. It was in the earth. It was in the sky” (Smith, 2000, p. 305). Also, the flip of a coin creates a certain mystery forcing readers to think over the situation and all decisions accepted by Archie.
Smith depicts that Life can give “a chance” to a person to start a new life and overcome tension and depression. Archie meets his second wife the same day when wants to commit a suicide. This situation depicts that “a chance” determines the life of Archie brining happiness to his wife Clare and future to their family. Smith writes: “Life wanted Archie. She had jealously grabbed him from the jaws of death, back to her bosom. Although he was not one of her better specimens, Life wanted Archie and Archie, much to his own surprise, wanted Life” (Smith, 2000, p. 6-7).
Through the flip a coin the life gives Archie a second chance and “peculiar” marriage. To some extent, the flip of a coin has afforded readers the opportunity to explore the sense of his unique character and soul at its most profound center. Involved in that is a certain amount of risk and challenge, of tension and attention, a certain presence that suggests how human beings might become as a people. Heads or tails mean necessity which is used by Archie as an explanation for capacity to seek and achieve the approbation of fellow human beings, and hence to form moral norms and rules of justice as internal and external guides to conduct.
It is important to note that indecision does not mean weakness or cowardice of the personality. The flip of a coin unveils true nature of Archie and his world views. War terror and tension have dominated in the society for so long that people are afraid to change something even if their habits are useless. Archie can do nothing but commit himself to laws he finds repulsive if the order of society demands it. Alsana characterizes the human experience as: “you go back and back and back and it’s still easier to find the correct Hoover bag than to find one pure person, one pure faith, on the globe” (Smith, 2000, p. 196).
This phrase vividly portrays Archie’s thoughts and hopes: the flip of a coin helps him to find his faith and truth of life in a unique and peculiar way which seems strange to all people around him. Smith portrays that a chance plays more powerful role than will or desire directing Archie and people around him. It is possible to say that Life sets certain limits on desires and whishes of Archie, and his role in lives of other characters: Clare and his daughter Irie, Samad Iqbal and his family.
Through the character of Archie and the flip of a coin, Smith goes beyond traditional structure interpretation of life and destiny based her work on imagery and superstition of the protagonist. The flip of a coin unveils that what humans needed is order, and that to achieve it they must rely on their destiny and chance. Archie has to condition to reality using his own way and relying on fate and choice.
He can blame nothing but his Life. The whole span of Archie’s development, from the explosive emotions of his youth to the skeptical mysticism of his middle age, is encompassed by the desire to play a game with his life and death. Archie fits very closely in with these ideas; he is a man trapped by a conventional notion of what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. The flip of a coin is liberation from outside world limited by traditions and stipulated norms, low morals and false values.