Roy’s tooth serves as a physical symbol of his relationship with Celestial. Roy loses the tooth on the night the two meet for the first time since college, after chasing down a young man who has just robbed Celestial’s apartment; when Roy gets close enough to grab the man’s leg, the thief kicks him in the mouth. Celestial suggests going to the emergency room to save the tooth, but Roy is too proud and focused on wooing Celestial to take her recommendation—foreshadowing his tendency to overlook his future wife’s wants and the, perhaps preventable, pain their marriage will cause. The tooth is kept in a velvet box “like what a ring comes in,” Roy says, directly connecting it to a symbol of marriage, fidelity, and dedication. After Roy is wrongfully convicted and imprisoned, the tooth reminds Celestial of his presence in her life. It, like Roy himself, is locked away yet still emits influence over Celestial. When Roy is finally released, the tooth is the only one of his belongings that he is intent on locating and taking with him back to Eloe. Upon failing to find it at Celestial’s house, he grows angry—believing Celestial to have discarded it, and, it follows, the last remnant of their relationship. She reveals that she has kept it in a special place, however, suggesting that she does, in fact, care about Roy and consider their relationship to have been meaningful regardless of how it ended. While Roy thought he had been thoughtlessly tossed aside by his wife, she proves that she has always kept him close. In taking the tooth, a literal piece of himself, back from Celestial, Roy is able to accept that their relationship is truly over and to become whole once again.
Roy’s Tooth Quotes in An American Marriage
All I wanted to take with me was my tooth. For years, I stored it in a velvet box, like what a ring comes in. I couldn’t tell her because she would think that I was being sentimental, that I was turning the memory of our first date over in my mouth like a mint. She wouldn’t understand that I couldn’t leave without the rest of my body.