Zadie Smith’s "Martha, Martha": the Value of Past in Our Lives

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Culture is a difficult term to define and it has a wide range of meanings the term can have. Culture is a social behavior standard that exists in human societies. It is the overall fabric of ideas, beliefs, customs, traditions and attitudes of a society. Also, it is the thinking styles and understanding behavior, habits and way of clothing and all the resulting innovations in the life of society. In short, it means that part of the environment that man made by himself and organized through his experiences and experiences. We have two kinds of culture in the cultural encounter book. The first one is study artworks like plays, statues and short stories, beside different sorts of cultural records such as medical texts. The second meaning is the expression of the identities of groups of people and ideas. Cultural encounters point our focus on the ways in that cultures react, overlap and are convert through these encounters. Cultural Encounters may be a concept that is used in current public and academic discussions on the conditions of modern-day societies. The concept is often used when trying to describe modern phenomena such as mass migration and globalization. We will focus on the cultural encounters which are demonstrated in the literary works, particularly the short stories of an Anthology of short stories from Five Continents such as Martha Martha story that written by Zadie Smith.

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In the beginning, Short story has a long history and didn't begin suddenly but it is exist in the past. Most of the short story wasn't written but it was moved orally such as the stories or legends that heard them from our grandparents, which were all considered a kind of short stories. A short story is a prose fiction and which can be read in one sitting and focuses on a one event and also on feelings and thoughts and it has a limited number of character. In addition, our focus here on the modern short story and the difference between it and the older short story. When we read the older short story like the story that tells about the animals could be have the end and goal which we can take from it the meaning of this story. While the modern short story of what we read every time we have a message or idea or a new addition to the story. This shows us that it is impossible to reduce the meaning in one sentence or two sentences in the modern short story. The short story in ancient times was written on the form of poetry and has a rhyme, and part of it is written in prose style such as The Earthly Paradise Book, a big book about short stories by the nineteenth century and it was very popular with Victorian readers. Also, it was speak about reshaping for the stories Ancient Greek. In the nineteenth century, the short story began to develop and appeared a group of writers which published sketches and tales in newspapers and journals which gained popularity at the time. Then the short story began to resonate and the people start considering the short story as a literary genre.

Furthermore, Martha Martha story was written by Zadie Smith. Zadie Smith is an essayist, short-story writer and contemporary English novelist. Her name was Sadie Smith but at the age of 14, she changed her name to Zadie. She was born on 25 October in 1975 in London, to a father's Harvey Smith who was an English man and a Jamaican mother, Yvonne McLean. During her studying of English at Cambridge University she wrote the first collection of short stories called The Mays Anthology and published in the University. One of her writings of short story is Martha, Martha. It is published in Granta's Best of Ypung British Writers, 2003. Also, it is set in the winter after the terrorist attacks of September 2001 events that had been nonetheless especially vivid in the minds of Americans.

On the other hand, the short story “Martha Martha” is about the two essential characters Martha and Pam who are searching a flat or a home for Martha. In the story the realtor called Pam who act as eyes as Martha herself to research for a new home. Pam is a divorced and in the middle-aged woman. She seems to face some problems from her past. Martha is younger than Pam. In specific, the character of Pam was from an upper-middle-class privileged. Smith's story was heavy on dialogue and written in a conversational tone. In additional, there is a flavor shared between Smith’s longer works and Martha. Although from Smith's writing about unsuitable conversations or father and daughter relationships or racism, she manages to make the scenes seem an actual. Martha, Martha was at first published in Granta and The New Yorker.

Moreover, Martha story is an unusual short story. It is about an encounter, and it depict the loneliness which come with the absence of family. The narrator of the Smith’s story is an observer, and he gives the views of the characters. Although the story is called “Martha Martha” but the major character, who is more in the concentrate of the narration, is Pam. Pam loves knowing the stories about numerous of people without truly knowing them. So, she tries to find things about Martha’s life by ask a lots of questions. Martha is an interesting person and her character is a secretive. She is not interact with Pam's questions. Pam seems a more surface personality compared to Martha and her relations to other people are on a very superficial basis. In this story the relation among the two women is the conflict with their past and the displeasure with their current positions. position.

Finally, we have some quotations from the story. “Pam sighed, but in fact she had some time ago, designed a speech to answer the question, whoever it came from, ‘Well, I suppose at my age, Martha, and especially in the light of the events of last September, I just think you have to make things work for you, work for you personally, because life is really too short, and if they don’t work, you just have to go ahead and cut them loose, and that’s basically”.( Macmillan 2008, p.188)‘


All the text contain of the subjects of self and cultural identity and the passage which chosen above explores the notion that no one can't alteration their past and must learn of it and moving forward. So it is clear in this part of text which Pam's character is more comfortable than Martha and she accepts of the subject of learning from one’s past. Martha is the person who said that “you have to make things work for you, work for you personally, because life is really too short, and if they don’t work, you just have to go ahead and cut them loose”. While Martha character is less agreeing of the idea of learning from one’s past.

‘“She’s my role model, Kara she definitely took it to the next level as a young black woman, you know? She didn’t get caught up in a lot of things you can get caught up in kids and that. She took it forward. That’s where I’m aiming for if you don’t aim high, there’s no point really”.( Macmillan 2008, p189)'


Also, she explores that how this friend is her role model because she didn’t earn in a lot of the things such as families or kids or other things. Through the short story, Martha’s tone was in a state of boredom. And after Pam started talking about her past Martha becomes even more so. So, Pam didn't lie about how she feels of her past. However, she recognizes that she can’t alteration the way anything happened and she must to move on with her life. Pam accepts that the past is unchangeable.

“Martha wound down the window that Pam had just closed and Pam felt she might just scream if the girl kept letting the outside in everywhere they went”. (Macmillan 2008, p.189)


Martha is more pessimistic than Pam. And the two women arrive to small struggle in this passage and the rest of the story. One of this issues are that Martha is permanently opening the windows and allow in the outside air, that makes Pam be crazy. And can be considered this that Martha's feel emotional suffocation by her past. Martha and Pam have different views when it comes to looking back to their’s past. Pam realized that every person need to move on in order to keep with life, while Martha's principle is stuck on how things were and not how they can be.

In conclusion, short stories are a collection of experiences of others and we should learn from them to take the lesson and experience to know how we can move on. In the Martha, Martha story we learned that the past embodies the memories and attitudes we have experienced and the achievements we have made and this past may be happy or may carry grief and pain and however we should continue.


  1. Prescott, L., 2008. A world of difference: an anthology of short stories from five continents, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  2. Prescott, L. ed., (2008). Martha, Martha Zadie Smith. In: A world of difference: an anthology of short stories from five continents. Palgrave Macmillan Basingstoke 2008, p.188-189.
  3. Prescott, L. (2008). Short Stories. In: R. Brown, ed., The arts past and present. Milton Keynes : Open University, 2008., pp.131-133.
  4. Anon, BLSEH! (gesundheit). Available at: [Accessed March 5, 2019].
  5. Cotsell, C., 2017. Throwbook Thursday: The Shortest Short Story Collection. Curieux Magazine. Available at: [Accessed March 8, 2019].
  6. Shortstoriesarelit, /, 2017. Martha Martha – Zadie Smith. Shortstoriesarelit. Available at: [Accessed March 3, 2019].
  7. Anon, 2019. Zadie Smith. Wikipedia. Available at: [Accessed March 9, 2019].
  8. Anon, A Pilot study: Investigating the feasibility of using a RCT design to study the effect of music therapy in psychiatry with people suffering from personality disorders - Forskningsportal, Aalborg Universitet. Available at: [Accessed March 3, 2019]

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