What happens in swing time?

Answered by Phillip Nicastro

In “Swing Time” by Zadie Smith, the story revolves around two main characters: Tracey and the unnamed narrator. Tracey, a talented dancer, auditions and secures a spot in a prestigious performing arts high school. However, as the years pass, Tracey finds herself getting into more and more trouble, while the narrator, who is her childhood friend, searches for less risky ways to rebel.

The story begins with Tracey and the narrator growing up in a housing estate in Northwest London. They bond over their shared love of dance and spend hours practicing routines together. When Tracey auditions for the performing arts school and gets accepted, the narrator is happy for her but also feels a sense of jealousy and resentment.

As Tracey’s talent and ambition drive her to excel in dance, the narrator begins to feel left behind. While Tracey becomes consumed by her passion, the narrator explores other interests and finds solace in books and intellectual pursuits. This divergence in their paths only widens the gap between them.

As the girls enter their teenage years, Tracey starts to rebel in more dangerous ways. She becomes involved with a group of delinquent boys and engages in risky behaviors. The narrator, on the other hand, becomes more cautious and begins to question the consequences of her actions. She longs for a sense of stability and security that seems to elude her.

The contrasting trajectories of Tracey and the narrator continue into adulthood. Tracey’s rebellious nature leads her down a path of self-destruction, while the narrator strives for a more conventional life. She goes to university, gets a job, and tries to find her place in the world.

At the age of 32, the narrator’s life takes an unexpected turn when she becomes responsible for a school in Gambia. This newfound responsibility becomes her primary focus, as she works tirelessly to improve the lives of the children in her care. Through her experiences in Gambia, the narrator gains a deeper understanding of herself and the world around her.

Throughout “Swing Time,” Zadie Smith explores themes of identity, friendship, ambition, and the complexities of growing up. The story delves into the choices we make, the consequences they have, and the way our past influences our present. Ultimately, it is a thought-provoking and introspective exploration of the human condition.