An American Marriage

by

Tayari Jones

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Roy’s Tooth Symbol Analysis

Roy’s Tooth Symbol Icon

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

The An American Marriage quotes below all refer to the symbol of Roy’s Tooth. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Algonquin edition of An American Marriage published in 2018.
Part 3, Chapter 9 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Roy Hamilton Jr. (speaker), Celestial Davenport
Related Symbols: Roy’s Tooth
Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile
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Roy’s Tooth Symbol Timeline in An American Marriage

The timeline below shows where the symbol Roy’s Tooth appears in An American Marriage. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2, Chapter 2
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
...fall short. She compares the two rings on her hand and thinks also of Roy’s tooth that sits in her jewelry box. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 5
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
...he had a gun and kicks Roy in the face hard enough to loosen a tooth. (full context)
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
...show up. Later, while fitting Roy for a bridge, a dentist tells Roy that the tooth could have been saved if he’d gone straight to the hospital. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 8
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Parenthood as a Choice Theme Icon
...her prayers into adulthood. She prays for Roy and for forgiveness. She thinks of Roy’s tooth in her jewelry box and its strong energy. (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 9
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
...if he needs anything in particular and Roy thinks that all he wants is his tooth, but that he doesn’t want to tell Celestial because she’ll think he’s being sentimental. (full context)
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
Olive had tried to save Roy, but he wonders from what. Having not found the tooth in any of the boxes, he believes it must be lost. He spots his fancy... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 11
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
...he was looking for in the boxes, and he admits he was looking for his tooth. She says she still has it and Roy says that’s because she loves him. She... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 13
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
...says that his being safe is gift enough. All he wants for Christmas is his tooth, so she goes to her dresser and takes out the box holding the tooth, asking... (full context)