Book Review: “Martha, Martha” by Zadie Smith
Hard work can make any friendship possible. “Martha, Martha”, a short story written by Zadie Smith is focused around Pam, a real estate agent, and Martha, her client. As the story goes on readers learn that Pam and Martha have very different personalities. Pam, who is from the midwest, likes to get to know people and is open to small talk. On the other hand, Martha is very closed off and just wants to check some boxes on her to-do list. Despite the differences, they both have recently suffered very big losses. Zadie Smith used literary devices such as tone, symbolism, figurative language, and imagery to illustrate how strong Martha and Pams’ relationship is becoming. Zadie Smith uses the literary devices imagery and figurative language in “Martha, Martha” to suggest that people with different personalities can work together even though it is hard.
In “Martha, Martha” Zadie Smith uses imagery throughout the story to convey the theme that people with different personalities can still work together. Throughout the story, Zadie Smith illustrates through imagery how Martha and Pam’s actions differ. At this point in the story, it is made clear that both Pam and Martha have had a rough past, they just handle it differently. While Pam was trying to make a deal on an apartment for Martha, Martha became overwhelmed. “Martha, dear, said Pam, returning a pen and pad she was holding back to her bag, ‘There's no hurry whatsoever, that's not the way this works at all'' (100). “You know what?’ replied Martha. With trembling fingers, she undid and then retied the waistband of her coat, I've got to go” (101). Martha’s actions throughout the story completely differ from Pam’s. When Zadie Smith was describing the way that Martha was acting after being reminded of her past, it was made clear that she hasn’t gotten over it. Where Pam has. Despite these differences, the effort made by Pam is truly the reason these two are friends. Although they both handle their past life differently Pam is trying hard to make Martha feel better. In addition to Zadie Smith portraying Martha as an overwhelmed character at the end, throughout the story Smith gives clues that Martha is dealing with something that she is trying to hide. For instance, “Pam shuddered; Martha did not move. Pam tried jostling her keys expectantly in her hand; Martha put down the CD case leaving the notes unfolded and walked over to the window” (26). Smith’s illustration of Martha being closed off and rude in a way is a clue that Martha is trying to hide part of her past life. Meanwhile, Pam is embracing what happened and she knows that she can’t change what already happened to her. Through imagery, we can see that these two characters are polar opposites. That doesn’t change the fact that both Martha and Pam can still get along. In Zadie Smith’s “Martha, Martha”, Martha and Pam’s different coping systems of getting over their past life don’t disturb their good relationship: which is portrayed throughout the story using imagery.
In addition to Smith’s use of imagery in “Martha, Martha”, she also uses tone throughout the text to show how Martha and Pam can still have a good relationship despite their differences. Smiths’ use of tone throughout the story also proves that Martha and Pam have completely different ways of completing everyday actions. When Pam asked Martha a simple question she seemed odd and rather secluded, “Yes, said Martha, but rather too quick, too desperate, How long would it be before I could move in somewhere” (19)? On the other hand, Pam is a very social person ‘Well, as I'm saying, dear, it depends on whether the place has people in it at the moment—but even then, we can turn it around very very quickly. It just needs to happen so that everybody wants to make it work, that's all. Don't worry, we'll find something that works” (19). Clearly, Martha and Pam are on two completely different ends of the social spectrum. Smith once again does a really good job at showing this through the tone of the character, by displaying how Martha and Pam differ from one another using their contradicting remarks. Because of Pam and Martha’s tone, the readers get a clear picture that these two characters are different. In addition, Smith makes it clear that Pam is the one that saves this relationship: she puts forth the effort to make sure that Martha is comfortable with her. Additionally, Pam’s success in her work is another reason that these two manage to get along despite the differences that they may face. When Martha has a low budget but a big list Pam knows exactly what to say to solve the problem. “Now, said Pam, struggling a little, from your letter I understood you were thinking around the thousand mark - but that's really a little low - I mean, I'll show you those places, Martha, but I can't guarantee you're going to like them” (25). Clearly, Pam’s outspoken personality that is portrayed throughout the text is not a perfect match for Martha’s reserved character. However, Pam’s success with her clients helps Martha feel more comfortable, as Smith portrays throughout the text. The tone that the characters use throughout the short story lets the readers know that Pam’s hard work to make Martha comfortable is just another reason why the two can work well together despite their differences. Throughout the text, Smith used tone to portray Martha and Pam’s social skills and Martha's effort to save the relationship.
Zadie Smith's use of Imagery and Tone in “Martha, Martha” helps the reader to understand that despite some differences any relationship can go on with a little bit of hard work. Many relationships have been avoided due to some differences. However, Zadie Smith’s Martha and Pam prove all you need is one solid connection and some teamwork.