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Grace Zhou's picture

   On one side, Felix was naked and did not intend to cover himself. (Smith 113) On the other side, Natalie was naked, shamefully. (Smith 389) It is interesting to find that Zadie Smith opens two seemingly separated stories of unrelated people with the same settings and portraits. In re-reading this book, I am shocked that there are many similarities between Felix and Nat. However, there are large differences or even contrasts between them, which seem like two people with analogical background turn to adverse directions in lives. Maybe, I think, Felix plays vital rule in this book by acting as another opposite Natalie.


    They both want to change and go out of the memory before, but they can’t. Nat’s change is more like an escape. She thinks she can get rid off the poor life in Caldwell she leads before and her heritage by neglecting and pretending. She interacts with others as Natalie and tries to bury Keisha in history. But why is she still not satisfied with living as Nat, who has nice husband and adorable kids, living happily and sufficiently? Firstly, she can’t successfully change to Nat. In other word, because she is still that unconfident Keisha, she can’t be satisfied with herself. She can’t accept herself as a person who had lived in Caldwell, in council estate. She not only cannot forget Keisha, but also be bothered by that history. What is more, “Vulnerability.” This is what we think about Nat when have group discussion. She is so vulnerable that she can’t accept who she is and the fact that she’s imperfect. And I think Nat is lack of “self-respect”, “a kind of ritual, helping us to remember who and what we are. In order to remember it, one must have known it.”(Bloom 254) Nat don’t know herself- Keisha. She’s struggling with the idea she is not good enough and forget that even Keisha is imperfect, she is worthy of love, worthy of connect with. Keisha still has value being with Leah, Marcia and even Frank.


    On the other hand, Felix accepts who he was. Although he didn’t free himself from the history either when he tried to find and had sex with his ex-Annie, I still respect him. He is just like Nat- who grew up in Caldwell and wants to change after met Grace. However, he is not vulnerable. Never trying to pretend and escape, Felix has the authenticity to admit and believe his own value. Different from Nat, he is full of self-respect. (Smith 115) It seems that he has a power of “being himself”, freeing himself from the expectations from others. When Nat is live for other’s opinion, Felix takes up the responsibility to his own life and move on. Although Felix has no chance to change his life anymore, he is more successful in valuing himself.


Although, these two people live in the same city, although they may encounter when across the street, although they are the mirrors that reflected a different self for each other, they just pass by. For me, it is magical to think that another Grace may just block away. And we choose to be ourselves, choose a way that never can head back again. I wonder if Felix met Nat and they fall in love. What will the book looks like then? Maybe with a lover who has the same background, Nat can live more easily and accept she is Keisha. There’s no need for her to pretend and escape in front of Felix because they can both understand what is poor live, both know the true feelings in changing themselves and both growing up with their special parent. They can’t hide anymore. They are forced to face the truth. But they choose to separate and live alone in this fragmented world. And maybe Nat will never let go what she think she should be and be herself.


Thus, lack of self-respect, Nat has no access to value herself fully. Only by meeting various people and trying to play some role in others live can she find herself exist. Nat is so occupied by neglecting herself and being a person she thinks is “right”. However, when she really defines and starts to understand herself without others’ evaluation and expectations, she is no one, not Keisha, not Natalie. It is just like “ one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.” (Bloom 258)

Works cited

 Bloom, Lynn Z., and Edward M. White. "On Self-respect." Inquiry: A Cross-curricular Reader. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1993. N. pag. Print.

 Smith, Zadie. NW. New York: Penguin, 2012. Print.