Themes in Smith’s Work
I will be focusing on two major themes ; that can be found throughout Zadie Smith’s stories …
“The Lazy river” (2017), a short story which was written by Zadie Smith, belongs to the so-called Brexit genre which emerged during the turbulent time of the UK leaving the European Union. Obviously the politics is behind the scenes in the story although Smith says she didn’t mean to emphasize this political aspect but rather her despair. The story reveals how the national political uncertainty affects people as individuals and how they are using the opportunity to vacation in Spain as a way to get a rest and be distracted from the political stress they experience in the UK. They feel comfortable staying in the “lazy river” moving in the current and being silent, rather than expressing their frustration and political opinion. Their worries about the future of their children and the new political reality after Brexit is contrasting with their comfort of being silent, enjoying small talks, drinking and emerging into the social media world, where being anonymous is better. Although in the story characters are not deeply involved in the global political discussion or any mechanism of the big politics, at the end of the day they return to it with their daily habits. At the end of the story some characters are checking their Twitter sitting on their balconies after putting their children to bed. There is no need to mention whose twitter as it is already political reality referring to Trump. Politics is fitting within personal, historical and cultural despair.
Smith explored the theme of technology and social media, along with other themes, including Brexit, struggle of life, and illegal immigration. She introduces the theme of technology through the story of two sisters constantly taking photos of each other. Smith contrasts their behavior with the rest of vacationers. She purposefully and sarcastically describes every detail of their move when preparing and taking photos:
“this business of photographs is a form of labor that fills each day to its limit, just as the Lazy River fills ours. It is an accounting of life that takes as long as life itself.”
By bringing the sisters in the story, Smith makes us feel second-hand embarrassment for the two sisters, but also reminds us that such behavior is common in our life. At the same time, the author is contrasting the sisters’ preoccupation with taking photos with the rest of vacationers, who in fact don’t even try to do anything but floating:
“No one is paying them for their labor, yet this does not deter them… At least they are making a project of their lives, a measurable project that can be liked or commented upon. What are we doing? Floating?”
So, at least being active using technology and making a project of their life is somehow better than just floating with the current without any efforts to change things around us. Smith continues to then show that addition to social media is not just a feature of the young generation, but many of the parents suffer from the same addition. At the end of the story, she reveals how after putting their kids in the bed, adults are sitting on their balconies and looking at their phones, catching up with their Twitter accounts. This is very significant because without even using names it reveals the extend of people’s addiction to social media.