The complex use of symbolism within Adiga’s social critique, ‘The White Tiger’

In his novel ‘The White Tiger’, Avarind Adiga explores the corruption and extreme poverty that plague modern India. Through an allegorical depiction of the enormous divide between rich and poor, Adiga condemns the oppression and hopelessness endured by the lower classes. Furthermore, illustrating the multitude of obstacles to the empowerment of the poor, Adiga suggests that the emergence of class consciousness is of greatest importance in allowing individuals to escape the ‘Rooster Coop’. Adiga presents Balram’s entrepreneurial journey as evidence of the capacity for members of the lower classes to ultimately craft their own identity, symbolically emphasising his success in earning himself a place in the Light.

Through a symbolic representation of the hardships endured by India’s poor and the exploitative behaviour of the upper classes, Adiga condemns the social structure of New India, which facilitates such pervasive inequality. In the early pages of his epistolary novel, Adiga includes an evocative description of the funeral of Balram’s mother, whose corpse is burned and abandoned to the “black mud” of the Ganga River. Adiga establishes the repugnant river as a symbol of the hopelessness endured by those in the Darkness, suggesting that although Balram’s mother’s body was “trying to fight the black mud”, it was “sucking her in” and she would inevitably become “part of the black mound”. Balram expresses his realisation that this struggle is emblematic of not only his mother’s life, but the adversity faced by all inhabitants of the Darkness, who despite their efforts, would never be “liberated”. Symbolism is also used by Adiga to depict the ‘two countries’ within India. Adiga conveys that the ‘Light’ encompasses the wealthy coastal regions and the ‘Darkness’ incorporates the impoverished rural regions of India, such as Balram’s village of Laxmangarh. Through this portrayal of the completely contrasting halves of India, Adiga emphasises the dichotomy between the rich and the poor which largely eliminates any possibility of social mobility. Adiga furthers his critique of India’s social system through the figurative description of the upper classes as “Men with Big Bellies” and the poor as “Men with Small Bellies”, creating an association between the incredible wealth of the upper classes and their greed and “Big Bellies”. Adiga elucidates that the elite of Indian society gained their position by “eat[ing] everyone else up”, underscoring the ferocity of the ‘food-chain’ of India’s social system. This concept is also developed through Adiga’s use of an animal allegory to represent the four landlords of Laxmangarh. Adiga conveys that the Buffalo, Stork, Wild Boar and Raven “fed on the village and everything that grew in it”, until the villagers were unjustly left with “nothing … to feed on” themselves. Furthermore, Adiga highlights the hardships suffered by those in the Darkness on an individual level through the contrast made by Balram between a rich man’s body and that of a poor man. While a rich man’s physique is “white and soft and blank”, a poor man’s frame is recognisable by its many “nicks and scars” and the clavicle which curves around his neck “like a dog’s collar.” Adiga conveys that the “story of a poor man’s life” is represented on his body, which serves as tangible evidence of his suffering and poverty. Using allegorical elements to emphasise the suffering of India’s lower classes, Adiga denounces the class system which forces the majority of the population to remain downtrodden their entire lives.

In ‘The White Tiger’, Adiga also utilises symbolism to emphasise the necessity of individuals attaining class consciousness in order to escape their poverty and oppression. As Balram begins resenting his master for exploiting him, such as through forcing him to take responsibility for “a killing [he] had not done”, Adiga illustrates that he gains an awareness of the wider injustices faced by the lower class. The Stork’s visit to a private hospital in a “big beautiful glass building”, is contrasted in Balram’s mind with Vikram’s pitiable death in a decrepit village hospital, symbolic of his complete powerlessness. Through the disparity between these two episodes, Adiga further develops the dualities of the novel, exemplifying the inequality between the ‘two castes’ of India and providing justification for Balram’s anger towards the upper classes. Balram’s emerging resentment towards India’s elite is also illustrated by Adiga through Balram’s representation of Delhi as a living, sentient being. Balram imagines that Delhi agrees to “speak to [him] of civil war” and of “blood on the streets” and promises that the corrupt Minister’s assistant “with the fat folds under his neck” will be the first to die in the bloodshed. Adiga conveys that Balram begins to perceive support for his cause everywhere in Delhi, as “dense pollution” informs him his crime will be well-hidden and a guard “puts down his gun” in an action that tells Balram “[he’d] do the same, if [he] could.” The symbolic expression of Balram’s desire for a class uprising is included by Adiga in order to demonstrate that Balram’s later violent actions stem not only from self-interest, but the yearning for the revolution of India’s social system, dominated by the rich capitalists of the upper classes, such as the Minister’s assistant. Adiga further highlights Balram’s resentment of his masters through his spitting “over the seats of the Honda City”. Just as he spits at Laxmangarh in the first chapter, vowing never again to return, Balram illustrates his complete rejection of Ashok and the elite class he represents through this “disgusting” action. Adiga further emphasises the vital role of Balram’s class consciousness in his escape from the Rooster Coop, through the method of his final climactic murder of Ashok. Adiga establishes “Johnnie Walker Black” whiskey as a symbol of the prestige of the upper classes, describing it as too expensive to ever be bought by those in the Darkness, who are mere “Indian liquor men”. Thus Balram’s decision to fashion the empty bottle from Ashok’s car into a murder weapon, with “long and cruel and clawlike jags” of glass, is representative of his rage towards Ashok’s privilege and decision to use his own prestige against him. Depicting Balram’s escape from the ‘Rooster Coop’, Adiga provides a metaphorical representation of his emerging awareness of the unjust class stratification of Indian society.

Following Balram’s metamorphosis from poor villager to successful businessman of the Light, Adiga uses symbolic elements to underscore the capacity for individuals to forge their own identity. Even in his first letter to Wen Jiabao, Balram expresses pride in his office space, which is “the only 150-square-foot space in Bangalore with its own chandelier!” While it literally “fling[s] light across the room”, the chandelier also serves as a figurative representation of Balram’s place in the Light of India, stemming from his newfound wealth and social position. Balram’s later explanation that the light of the chandelier keeps “the lizards away”, is included by Adiga to emphasise that Balram represses his former identity as an Indian villager, represented by the ‘lizards’ that terrified him as a boy. Adiga also establishes a complex duality between Ashok and Balram throughout the novel, represented in the rear view mirror of the Honda City, in which the men’s “eyes meet so often” and serves as a conduit for confrontation between master and servant. Through his observation of Ashok in the mirror, Balram finds justification for his eventual murder of his master in Ashok’s philandering and corrupt behaviour, but also learns how to behave as an authentic member of India’s elite, noticing details such as the “empty and white” t-shirts Ashok wears. This ultimately assists him in crafting his new identity. Significantly, Adiga presents Balram’s visit to the National Zoo as the catalyst for his murder of Ashok. Standing in front of the “creature … born only once every generation”, Balram’s “eyes met” the white tiger’s eyes, in the same way his “master’s eyes [had] met [his] so often in the mirror of the car.” Through this encounter, Adiga conveys that just as Balram gradually appropriates the identity of his master, he is able to fully assume his identity as ‘The White Tiger’ in order to commit the act of brutality that propels him into the Light. Adiga provides final evidence of Balram’s success in the creation of his new persona as a successful businessman, through the name he takes on – “Ashok Sharma”, symbolic of his replacement of Mr Ashok in the Light. Adiga suggests that identity is ultimately malleable, using symbolism to highlight Balram’s transformation from villager, to white tiger, to wealthy businessman.

In ‘The White Tiger’, Adiga uses symbolism to highlight the enormous dichotomy between the rich and poor in India, and condemn the oppression endured by those in the Darkness. Adiga also uses symbolism to underscore the importance of an awareness of wider class injustices in society in facilitating an escape from the Darkness into the Light. Furthermore, the capacity for individuals to transform their identity is emphasised through Adiga’s allegorical representation of Balram’s abandonment of his identity as a poor villager and creation of his persona as Ashok Sharma.

The Struggle to Overcome

In The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga adopts an epistolary form to depict the plight of a low caste servant, trying to escape the physical and mental chains that forge his destiny. Adiga initially presents a protagonist in Balram, who is engaging, despite confessing to horrific crimes. His language, thoughts, and deeds convey his initially good nature. However, this good nature is also a huge weakness in his journey to freedom as the India Adiga presents is sharply divided into two, the Darkness, and the Light. The Light is where the upper castes reside, filled with malfeasance and nepotism; a hotbed for corruption; whereas the Darkness is where the lower castes dwell, filled with poverty and an archaic sense of duty to family. Balram, being bogged in the Darkness, was forced to overcome his kind but weak nature to escape this Rooster Coop, freeing himself from slavery.

Born with the name “Munna”, and by the end of the novel known as “Ashok Sharma”, Balram goes through a steady transformation from a kind-hearted boy to the animal that “comes only once in a generation”, The White Tiger. He begins as a mere child and a peasant in The Darkness, completely unimportant and unloved, and expected to be completely submissive to the will of his family. Forced to drop a lifetime opportunity without even getting a say in it, he gets a job in a teashop, working with no pride for little pay. After being hired as a driver, he recognizes that his family want to “scoop (him) out from the inside and leave (him) weak and helpless” by using him for monetary gain. Learning this, he rebels, refusing to get married and refusing to dedicate his life to their ends. This signifies a major transition for him, the beginning of his corruption. He blackmails the number one driver into leaving, causing Balram to become the new number one driver, also marking his first malicious act. While he feels some guilt upon doing this, he becomes happier, realizing that his happiness is proportionate to his ruthlessness. The more ruthless he becomes, the stronger his sense of himself as a person becomes, a person that was raised like an animal, made to provide dumbly until he died unceremoniously. Balram needs ruthlessness. Balram values individuality and freedom more than he does morality. To him freedom is a cause worth dying for, and thus it must be a cause worth killing for. Balram’s good hearted nature holds him back, thus he must overcome it to free himself from the Rooster Coop.

Transforming into “The White Tiger”, Balram murders Ashok, finally freeing him from the shackles of the Darkness. Throughout the book, their relationship changes as Balram develops. In the beginning, Balram looks up to Ashok, seeing him as a good man, so he doesn’t cheat him. However, when Ashok forces Balram to take the blame for the traffic accident, it shatters that illusion. This devastates him, feeling betrayed and used. When Pinky Madam leaves Ashok, Ashok becomes corrupt. He starts sleeping around and partying, partaking in every sin from gluttony to lust. He sleeps with a Russian actress whilst Balram sits in the car “hoping he’d come running out… screaming “Balram, I was on the verge of making a mistake!””. Balram becomes disillusioned with Ashok because of this, losing all respect for him. Ironically, this makes him imitate him, following his corruption by stealing petrol, using the car for himself, using it as a taxi, and by going to corrupt mechanics. Finally, the idea of stealing the red bag emerges. The idea of taking 700,000 rupees and be free. The red of the bag symbolizes the blood-stained wealth he will obtain. He sees what he may gain by killing Ashok, freedom. Knowing he would lose his family didn’t affect his decision, as to them he was just a resource. The instant Balram murders Ashok with the whisky bottle, he starts referring to Ashok as an “it”. Using this symbol of wealth as a murder weapon is his final step into The Light. Before, he was a servant, treated like an animal and acting like a piece of furniture. This is how Balram was granted freedom, by escaping his weak nature.

The polarized realities of India are geographically represented. The Light is found in large cities close to the ocean, such as Bangalore which “is the future” with “one in three new office blocks… being built (there)”. The Light radiates from the fast-paced social energy and massive wealth of new industries, such as Balram’s own business which boasts “sixteen drivers… with twenty-six vehicles”. In this rich milieu, entrepreneurial activity, corruption, and social mobility thrive. By illustrating this, Adiga shows that while the nefarious few who sit in offices inside skyscrapers enjoy the Light of the sun, the Darkness cast by the shadows of these edifices engulf the poor. The Darkness is found in inland river villages, particularly along the traditionally sacred northern river system, the Ganga. The Darkness is symbolized as a “Rooster Coop” by Adiga, using zoomorphism to lend animalistic characteristics to people. Roosters in a coop watch one another slaughtered one by one, but are unable or unwilling to rebel and break out of the coop. Similarly, India’s poor people see one another crushed by the wealthy and powerful, defeated by the staggering inequality of Indian society, but are unable to escape the same fate. Liberation from this unforgiving environment forces Balram to adapt, inducing him to murder, cheat, steal, as well as abandon his family. He even had to take on a new identity, but in his own eyes had an “amazing success story”. As he writes “a few hundred thousand rupees of someone else’s money, and a lot of hard work, can make magic happen in this country.” Such is the relentless India that Adiga illustrates, conveying the irony in the Darkness and The Light, as to be in The Light, one must darken their heart. His weak nature was the main thing holding him back, and thus he had to overcome it to escape slavery.

Summarily, in The White Tiger, Balram overcomes his weak nature with a nefarious one as Adiga demonstrates that demonstrates that the cloth of progress and innovation in the highly wealthy Modern India is tightly interwoven with corruption, which is absorbed by Balram. The polarized sides of Modern India, and the rampant corruption forces him to overcome his weak form as a mere rooster, stuck in “the Rooster Coop”, into the animal that “comes along only once in a generation”, “The White Tiger” to free himself from slavery.

Light and Darkness in The White Tiger

Aravind Adiga adopts an epistolary form in The White Tiger, depicting the plight of a low caste servant, trying to escape the mental and physical chains that forge his destiny. Adiga initially presents a protagonist in Balram, who is engaging, despite confessing to horrific crimes. His language, thoughts, and deeds convey his originally good nature. However, this honest nature is also an immense weakness in his journey to freedom as the India Adiga presents is sharply divided into two, the Darkness, and the Light. The upper castes reside in the Light, filled with malfeasance and nepotism, a hotbed for corruption, whereas the lower castes reside in the Darkness, filled with poverty and an archaic sense of duty to family. Balram, being bogged in the Darkness, had to become his own master to succeed, as this duty to family and rampant corruption shackled him.

The polarized realities of India are geographically represented. The Light is found in large cities close to the ocean, such as Bangalore which “is the future” with “one in three new office blocks… being built (there)”. The Light radiates from the fast-paced social energy and massive wealth of new industries, such as Balram’s own business which boasts “sixteen drivers… with twenty-six vehicles”. In this rich milieu, entrepreneurial activity corruption, and social mobility thrive. By illustrating this, Adiga highlights that while the nefarious few who sit in offices inside skyscrapers enjoy the Light of the sun, the Darkness cast by the shadows of these edifices engulf the poor. The Darkness is found in inland river villages, particularly along the traditionally sacred northern river system, the Ganga. The Darkness is symbolised as a “Rooster Coop” by Adiga, using zoomorphism to lend animalistic characteristics to people. Roosters in a coop watch one another slaughtered one by one, but are unable or unwilling to rebel and break out of the coop. Similarly, India’s poor people see one another crushed by the wealthy and powerful, defeated by the staggering inequality of Indian society but are unable to escape the same fate. Thus, Balram realises that he must rebel against his master to escape this inequality, becoming his own master.

Born with the name “Munna”, and ultimately known as “Ashok Sharma”, Balram goes through a steady transformation from a kind-hearted boy to the animal that “comes only once in a generation”, the white tiger. He begins as a mere child and peasant in the Darkness, completely unimportant and unloved, and expected to be completely submissive to the will of his family. Forced to drop a lifetime of opportunity without even getting a say in it, he gets a job in a teashop, working for no pride with little pay. After being hired as a driver, he recognizes that his family want to “scoop (him) out from the inside and leave (him) weak and helpless” by using him for monetary gain. Learning this, he rebels, refusing to get married and refusing to dedicate his life to their ends. This signifies a major transition for him, the beginning of his corruption. He blackmails the number one driver into leaving, causing Balram to become the new number one driver, also marking his first malicious act. While he feels some guilt upon doing this, he becomes happier, realizing that his happiness is proportionate to his ruthlessness. The more ruthless he becomes, the stronger his sense of himself as a person becomes, a person that was raised like an animal, a person made to provide dumbly until he died unceremoniously. Balram needs ruthlessness. He values individuality and freedom more than he does morality. To him freedom is a cause worth dying for, and thus it must be a cause worth killing for. This freedom wasn’t obtainable while under Ashok’s control. Thus, Balram was driven to become his own master to be “free”.

Transforming into “The White Tiger”, Balram murders Ashok, finally freeing him from the shackles of the Darkness. Throughout the book, their relationship changes as Balram develops. Initially, Balram looks up to Ashok, seeing him as a good man, so he doesn’t cheat him. However, when Ashok forces Balram to take the blame for a traffic accident, it shatters that illusion. This devastates him, feeling betrayed and used. When Pinky Madam leaves Ashok, Ashok becomes corrupt. He starts sleeping around and partaking in every sin from gluttony to lust. He sleeps with a Russian Actress whilst Balram sits in the car “hoping he’d come running out”, believing he was “on the verge of making a mistake”. From this, Balram becomes disillusioned with Ashok, losing all respect for him. Ironically, this makes Balram imitate him, following his corruption by stealing petrol, suing the car for himself, using it as a taxi, and by going to corrupt mechanics. Finally, the idea of stealing the red bag emerges. He idea of taking seven-hundred-thousand rupees and be free. The red of the bag symbolizes the blood-stained wealth he will obtain. He sees what he may gain by killing Ashok, freedom. Knowing he would lose his family didn’t affect this decision, as to them he was just a resource. The instant Balram murders Ashok with the whiskey bottle, he starts referring to him as an “it”. Using this symbol of wealth as a murder weapon “shatters” the wall between him and the Light, escaping the Darkness. Thus, Adiga conveys that the only way for Balram to be “free” was to become his own master, only achieving this by killing his previous master.

Summarily in The White Tiger, Balram is shackled in the Darkness, by the staggering inequality of Indian society, his family, and his servitude. Thus, Adiga conveys that the only escape from the Darkness is relinquishing these bonds, meaning Balram was compelled to become his own master in his quest for “freedom”.

Balram: A product of his environment?

In The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga initially presents a protagonist in Balram, who is engaging, despite confessing to horrific crimes. His language, thoughts, and deeds convey his initially good nature. However, by the end of the novel, immorality and corruption overtake Balram. This isn’t due to him being corrupt and evil at heart, but caused by India itself. The India Adiga presents is sharply divided into two, The Darkness, and The Light. The Light is where the upper castes reside, filled with malfeasance and nepotism; a hotbed for corruption, whereas The Darkness is where the lower castes dwell, filled with poverty and an archaic sense of duty to family. Balram, being bogged in The Darkness, was forced to alter his morality to escape the “rooster coop”, and enter The Light.

Born with the name “Munna”, and by the end of the novel known as “Ashok Sharma”, Balram goes through a steady transformation from a kind-hearted boy to the animal that “comes only once in a generation”, The White Tiger. He begins as a mere child and a peasant in The Darkness, completely unimportant and unloved, and expected to be completely submissive to the will of his family. Forced to drop a lifetime opportunity without even getting a say in it, he gets a job in a teashop, working with no pride for little pay. After being hired as a driver, he recognizes that his family want to “scoop (him) out from the inside and leave (him) weak and helpless” by using him for monetary gain. Learning this, he rebels, refusing to get married and refusing to dedicate his life to their ends. This signifies a major transition for him, the beginning of his corruption. He blackmails the number one driver into leaving, causing Balram to become the new number one driver, also marking his first malicious act. While he feels some guilt upon doing this, he becomes happier, realising that his happiness is proportionate to his ruthlessness. The more ruthless he becomes, the stronger his sense of himself as a person becomes, a person that was raised like an animal, made to provide dumbly until he died unceremoniously. Balram needs ruthlessness. Balram values individuality and freedom more than he does morality. To him freedom is a cause worth dying for, and thus it must be a cause worth killing for. Balram is not an evil person, for what he does is necessary in becoming a true person in India at all.

Transforming into “The White Tiger”, Balram murders Ashok, finally freeing him from the shackles of the Darkness. Throughout the book, their relationship changes as Balram develops. In the beginning, Balram looks up to Ashok, seeing him as a good man, so he doesn’t cheat him. However, when Ashok forces Balram to take the blame for the traffic accident, it shatters that illusion. This devastates him, feeling betrayed and used. When Pinky Madam leaves Ashok, Ashok becomes corrupt. He starts sleeping around and partying, partaking in every sin from gluttony to lust. He sleeps with a Russian actress whilst Balram sits in the car “hoping he’d come running out… screaming “Balram, I was on the verge of making a mistake!””. Balram becomes disillusioned with Ashok because of this, losing all respect for him. Ironically, this makes him imitate him, following his corruption by stealing petrol, using the car for himself, using it as a taxi, and by going to corrupt mechanics. Finally, the idea of stealing the red bag emerges. The idea of taking 700,000 rupees and be free. The red of the bag symbolizes the blood-stained wealth he will obtain. He sees what he may gain by killing Ashok, freedom. Knowing he would lose his family didn’t affect his decision, as to them he was just a resource. The instant Balram murders Ashok with the whisky bottle, he starts referring to Ashok as an “it”. Using this symbol of wealth as a murder weapon is his final step into The Light. Before, he was a servant, treated like an animal and acting like a piece of furniture. The setting of India forced him to do everything he did to change. For the environment forced him into becoming “The White Tiger”.

The polarized realities of India are geographically represented. The Light is found in large cities close to the ocean, such as Bangalore which “is the future” with “one in three new office blocks… being built (there)”. The Light radiates from the fast-paced social energy and massive wealth of new industries, such as Balram’s own business which boasts “sixteen drivers… with twenty-six vehicles”. In this rich milieu, entrepreneurial activity, corruption, and social mobility thrive. By illustrating this, Adiga shows that while the nefarious few who sit in offices inside skyscrapers enjoy the Light of the sun, the Darkness cast by the shadows of these edifices engulf the poor. The Darkness is found in inland river villages, particularly along the traditionally sacred northern river system, the Ganga. The Darkness is symbolized as a “Rooster Coop” by Adiga, using zoomorphism to lend animalistic characteristics to people. Roosters in a coop watch one another slaughtered one by one, but are unable or unwilling to rebel and break out of the coop. Similarly, India’s poor people see one another crushed by the wealthy and powerful, defeated by the staggering inequality of Indian society, but are unable to escape the same fate. Liberation from this unforgiving environment forces Balram to adapt, inducing him to murder, cheat, steal, as well as abandon his family. He even had to take on a new identity, but in his own eyes had an “amazing success story”. As he writes “a few hundred thousand rupees of someone else’s money, and a lot of hard work, can make magic happen in this country.” Such is the relentless India that Adiga illustrates, conveying the irony in the Darkness and The Light, as to be in The Light, one must darken their heart. This setting shaped Balram into the man he became, turning the innocent “Munna” into the savage but noble, “White Tiger”.

In Aravind Adiga’s, The White Tiger, Balram becomes nefarious due to his habitat as Adiga demonstrates that the cloth of progress and innovation in the highly wealthy Modern India is tightly interwoven with corruption, which is absorbed by Balram. The polarised sides of Modern India, and the rampant corruption forces him to evolve from a mere rooster, stuck in “the Rooster Coop”, into the animal that “comes along only once in a generation”, “The White Tiger”.

Finding Identity in The White Tiger

Aravind Adiga adopts an epistolary form in The White Tiger, depicting the plight of a low caste servant, trying to escape the physical and mental chains that forge his destiny. Adiga initially presents a protagonist in Balram, who is engaging, despite confessing to horrific crimes. His language, thoughts, and deeds convey his originally good nature. However, this honest nature is also an immense weakness in his transformative journey to freedom as the India Adiga presents is sharply divided into two is sharply divided into two, the Darkness, and the Light. The upper castes reside in the Light, filled with malfeasance and nepotism; a hotbed for corruption; whereas the Darkness hosts the lower castes, filled with poverty and an archaic sense of duty to family. This environment forces Balram to transform to construct his “own” identity.

The polarised realities of India are geographically represented. The Light is found in large cities close to the ocean, such as Bangalore which “is the future” with “one in three new office blocks… being built” there. The Light radiates from the fast-paced social energy and massive wealth of new industries, such as Balram’s own business which boasts “sixteen drivers” and “twenty-six vehicles”. In this rich milieu, entrepreneurial activity, corruption, and social mobility thrive. By illustrating this, Adiga highlights that while the nefarious few who sit in offices inside skyscrapers enjoy the Light of the sun, the Darkness cast by the shadows of these towering edifices engulf the poor. The Darkness is found in inland river villages, particularly along the traditionally sacred northern river system, the Ganga. The Darkness is symbolised as a “Rooster Coop” by Adiga, using zoomorphism to lend animalistic characteristics to people. Roosters in a coop watch one another slaughtered one by one, but are unable or unwilling to rebel and break out of the coop. Similarly, India’s poor see one another crushed by the wealthy and powerful, defeated by the staggering inequality of Indian society, but are unable to escape the same fate. This environment forces Balram to adapt leaving his kind nature for an immoral one. With this, Adiga conveys that to succeed in post-partition India, one must be corrupt.

Born with the name “Munna” (literally meaning boy), and ultimately known as “Ashok Sharma”, Balram goes through a steady transformation from a kind-hearted boy to the animal that “comes only once in a generation”, the White Tiger, constructing his own identity. He begins as a mere child and a peasant in the Darkness, completely unimportant and unloved, and expected to be completely submissive to the will of his family. Forced to drop a lifetime of opportunity without even getting a say in it, he gets a job in a teashop, working with no pride for little pay. After being hired as a driver, he recognizes that his family want to “scoop (him) out from the inside and leave (him) weak and helpless” by using him for monetary gain. Learning this, he rebels, refusing to get married and refusing to dedicate his life to their ends. This signifies a major transition for him, the beginning of his corruption. He blackmails the number one driver into leaving, causing Balram to become the new number one driver, whilst also marking his first malicious act. While he feels some guilt upon doing this, he becomes happier, realizing that his happiness is proportionate to his ruthlessness. The more ruthless he becomes, the stronger his sense of himself as a person becomes, a person that was raised like an animal, made to provide dumbly until he died unceremoniously. Balram needs ruthlessness. He values individuality and freedom more than he does morality. To him freedom is a cause worth dying for, thus it must be a cause worth killing for. Therefore, Adiga conveys that his transformation was not only self-fashioning but also fashioned by his environment.

Transforming into “The White Tiger”, Balram murders Ashok, finally freeing himself from the shackles of the Darkness. Throughout the book, their relationship changes as Balram transforms. In the beginning, Balram looks up to Ashok, seeing his as a respectable man, so he doesn’t cheat him. However, when Ashok forces Balram to take the blame for the traffic incident, it shatters that illusion. This devastates him, feeling betrayed and used. When Pinky Madam leaves Ashok, Ashok becomes corrupt. He starts sleeping aroung and partying, partaking in every sin from gluttony to lust. He sleeps with a Russian actress whilst Balram sits in the car “hoping he’d come running out… screaming ‘Balram, I was on the verge of making a mistake’”. Balram becomes disillusioned with Ashok because of this, losing all respect for him. Ironically, this makes him imitate Ashok, following his corruption by stealing petrol, using the car for himself, using it as a taxi, and by going to corrupt mechanics. Finally, the idea of stealing the red bag emerges. The idea of taking seven-hundred-thousand rupees and be free. The red bag symbolises the blood-stained wealth he will obtain. He sees what he may gain by killing Ashok, his freedom, his ability to create his own identity. Knowing he would lose his family didn’t affect his decision, as to them he was just a resource. The instant Balram murders Ashok with the whiskey bottle, he starts referring to Ashok as an “it”. Using this symbol of wealth as a murder weapon is his final step into the Light. Before, he was a servant, treated like an animal and acting like a piece of furniture. He now has created his “own” identity, although it was mainly fashioned by his surroundings.

Summarily, in The White Tiger, Balram’s journey to create his own identity is largely fashioned by the environment he’s in, rather than his own power. Thus, Adiga conveys how in this India one can only create their own identity to a certain extent, as part of it will be created by their surroundings.

The White Tiger and Its Critics: A Survey of Recent Responses

Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger is a representation of the India that is not often displayed among the media. It is an India that, in its core, incorporates all aspects of political, social and economic injustice. Balram Halwai, the protagonist, lives in a world of two extremities: the downtrodden poor and the conniving rich. The somewhat obscure portrayal of India raises questions among widely accredited critics on whether Adiga’s India is a true one or not. It is, however, quite likely that the ‘ugliness [of India] is exaggerated’ and not at all like the monstrosity in The White Tiger. Where several critics believed they ‘could not relate to the destitution’ demonstrated in the novel, many others held the idea that it brought the ‘true India’ to light.

The White Tiger’s convoluted take on an India lacking a decent political atmosphere has been condemned by various big names. The poor are so inanely poor that they are forced to work away their lives repaying their debts. Akash Kapur of the New York Times speaks of an absolute ‘absence of human complexity’ in the novel. The countless hours spent describing the depravity of the lower class in The White Tiger has reduced them to only ‘symbols’. Adiga has seemingly attempted to base the story entirely on the brutalities of the poor, however, forgetting that they are indeed humans with a very real kind of humanity. The novel is considered to have displayed a version of the ‘lives of poor rural Indians’ that is quite a ‘brutal distortion’. Adiga’s descriptions of Bihar are rather mocking and not at all like how the town is characteristically known as. He has turned the Bihar found in the novel into a ‘cheap caricature’ of the original. It is not a necessity to ‘idealize poverty’ in order to find the humanity within individuals and this is an idea Adiga has a hard time resonating with.

In stark contrast, The Independent’s David Mattin appears to be quite oddly ‘seduced’ by the aura of the novel. He is acceptant of Adiga’s India and follows the novel word to word as should be expected for a writer at a liberal newspaper. The ‘dazzling narrative’ of this ‘emerging’ India comprises of an entirely desolate landscape of distrust and disgust. The poor have no opportunities handed to them and the only way for them to make it out in the world is by crossing the line of good and evil. Upon having crossed the only boundary separating them from acts of utter horror, the downtrodden are no longer so and have instead found a life of privilege that is associated with an ultimate lack of morals. As Robins of The Telegraph states in his review, ‘advancement can be achieved only by patronage and corruption’. In a world like Balsam’s, one must break off all barriers and become removed from the orthodox morality in attempts to succeed.

Balram Halwai is a man of no regards and absolutely no morality. Adiga has, in his attempt to make the novel comical, forgotten to give Balram attributes that make him more than a ‘one-dimensional’ figure. Balram is reduced to his more alarming actions rather than becoming a man of depth. The novel seems to forgo the fact that the characters are meant to hold depth and complexity. Kapur explains how although Balram is quite the interesting fellow, ‘his credulousness and naiveté often ring false’. Balram’s apparent astonishment in response to the sight of English liquor and the insides of an air-conditioned mall does not exactly make much sense. The characters of the novel are so insanely eccentric that their actions often do not add up, instead making them appear to be shallow and superficial.

In The White Tiger, Adiga has built an India reasonably different to what is revealed in the media. His India is one of impoverishment and disparity among the classes. This India is one without the bourgeois society; it is one of ‘darkness’ and ‘light’. There is no way to truly confirm whether Adiga’s vision of India is true, unless one were to truly seek the answer out within the country itself. The novel’s dry wit diminishes the value of the characters and makes them out to be nothing short of symbols. The economic state of the country is one of immense corruption. The India Adiga reveals is one that leaves a mark on the reader. It is an India that is unforgettable.

Post Colonial India; a Land of Rottenness and Corruption

Aravind Adiga’s Epistolary novel “The White Tiger” is, at its core, a tale of “rottenness and corruption,” told through the eyes of Balram Halwai, a man born to “the darkness” of India. The narrative comments upon the vast inequalities of corruption in modern-day India at a systematic & individual level. With that being said, there is a certain –small- amount of morality and “humanity” demonstrated in the novel, however, it only serves to highlight how truly corrupted and rotten Indian society is.

From the perspective of anti-hero balram Halwai, the reader is goven a first-hand account of the “debauchery” present throughout the entirety of India. Balram is depicted as being a victim of this systematic inequality from the moment of his birth. He was “born to the darkness” of India in Laxmangarh, a village with “defunct” and “broken” infrastructure, and with children who are “too lean for their age,” this poverty within the village is contrasted with the “four animals” – the landlords who “feed upon the village”-. These landlords live in “high walled mansions” and come to the village only to “steal” from the people. Furthermore, Balram explains how India’s “democracy” works from quite early on in the text, serving to further India’s depiction as a land of “corruption” and “scum”. The fact that Balram is “India’s most faithful voter” and yet had never been “inside a voting booth” demonstrates how, in India, votes are sold. This corrupt democracy is protected through violence; people wanting to cast their own votes being “murdered” and “stamped back into the earth” by both politicians and the police themselves, representing not only the unfairness of the system, but the outright violence of it. This corruption of the political system is affirmed even more-so by “The Great Socialist” – the “voice of the poor” – when he pressures the landlords for “one and a half million rupees” in order to continue to “allow” them to steal coal from “government mines.” Not only does this represent the bribery which is a prevalent issue throughout India, but also the way in which the poor are “trapped” in the darkness, because even those who claim to be “the voice of… the disenfranchised” steal from them. Through Balram, the reader is given a keen insight into the rottenness and corruption which pervades all facets of Indian society.

However, whilst Balram emphasises the unethicalness of India’s political and social system, it is important to remember that he himself is a man of “near total dishonesty”. He professes to being a “monster” who was willing to see his family “hunted, beaten and burned alive” in order to become a “free man” and ascend into “the light” of India. Balram, whilst certainly born to a bad situation, was never forced to murder Mr. Ashok. Balram chose to “pierce his throat”, even though he claims to know “right from wrong,” demonstrating that he is a “beast,” a “pervert… of nature,” completely lacking in morals, and therefore, a man of rottenness. Even prior to Mr. Ashok’s murder, Balram is depicted as a natural liar, lying that he had “four years’ experience” as a driver in order to get his job with Mr. Ashok, and also lying to Ashok that he “sends [money] home” to his family. This second lie is arguably more revealing of Balram’s true nature in that is not only depicts him as a liar, but also as a man with a complete and utter lack of empathy, or morality, in regards to his family, foreshadowing his decision to allow them to be “destroyed”. Whilst Balram attempts to portray India as the sole source of rottenness of his story, the sole antagonist, as a “lawless” nation of greed and corruption, Adiga subsequently portrays Balram himself as a the living embodiment of Indian society.

With that in mind, however, Adiga does ensure that there are a number of morally correct events within the novel. For example, Mr. Ashok is shown to have raised Balram’s wages without him “even asking”, which represents that although Mr. Ashok is a man “with a big belly”, he is still capable of kindness. However, it is this kindness of Mr. Ashok, the fact that he is “too trusting”, which causes Balram to name him “the Lamb”. Mr. Ashok’s kindness, and subsequent lacking of “instincts… of a Landlord”, are what lead Balram to believe that he –and masters like him (kind, compassionate)- “must be weeded out.” Therefore, Mr. Ashok’s few moments of kindness and morality in the text serve primarily to highlight how such things are not valued in Indian society, further alluding to the rottenness of the nation; how it is ruled by greed and corruption, by “jungle law”. Also, Balram’s primary act of kindness in the text, “[going back” for Dharem after he “pierced [Mr. Ashok’s] throat”, whilst initially seen by the reader as an act of morality, is later overshadowed by Balram stating that he might have to “kill” Dharem if he continues to grow up “with no morals.” Almost all of the acts of kindness in The White Tiger are morbidly twisted into either being immortal, or simply looked upon disparagingly by Indian Society, resulting in a powerful comment by Adiga that rottenness and immorality are the only things valued in Indian society.

Through The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga makes comment upon the complete lack of morals within modern India; upon the fact that the only two destinies within the society are to “eat – or get eaten up”. This comment is made by emphasizing throughout the novel that the only way to be “treated like a man,” to escape the cycle of “perpetual servitude”, is to be a “monster” completely lacking in morals. Furthermore, Adiga makes certain to demonstrate how kindness and humanity are seen as nothing but “weakness” in Indian society, therefore consolidating the reader’s perception of India as a land of depravity, and of unscrupulousness.

Equal Parts Admiration and Disgust: Balram Halwai as an Atypical Protagonist

Balram Halwai is a protagonist in Aravind Adiga’s epistolary novel The White Tiger, in the sense that he is the primary driver of events in the story, and due to the fact that he faces great challenge and adversity, and overcomes the difficulties in his path. However, it is that nature in which he conquers his challenges that Balram diverges from the typical role of a protagonist; in that he climbs society through immorality and selfishness, by using others as rungs; this is in stark contrast to a typical protagonist of courage and honesty. Therefore, it is due to Balram’s “conquering” of India’s societal restrictions that allows the reader to experience admiration, yet it is due to the nature of his ascent that readers can, and do, experience disgust.

Protagonists are generally honourable, selfless characters who are the main focuses in stories, and generally are the primary forces of progression in the narrative. Balram, from birth, has seemingly insurmountable social restrictions (confining him to be a sweet-maker for his life) placed upon him in the form of caste; a pre-determined and pre-defined role within society based upon one’s birth. Although, unlike the hundreds of millions of other Indians in his position, Balram finds himself determined to escape the “darkness” of India, and to “live like a man”. However, he is far from possessing the common character traits of regular protagonists. Balram’s role as a protagonist is atypical in the fact that he is an unprincipled, unethical character who finds completing jobs “with near total dishonesty, lack of dedication, and insincerity” to be “profoundly enriching experiences”. This is not to say that Balram, as a character, is necessarily evil. He was forced by necessity to either conform to social expectations, or to “break out of the coop”; to be “a freak, a pervert of nature… a White Tiger.”

Readers are able to admire Balram not due to his actions, but due to his extraordinary efforts to rid himself of the shackles of the “zoo” that is India’s oppressive, primitive social structure. Balram’s story is, iniquitously, a story of success, and it is this success, as well as the fantastic lengths to which Balram goes to achieve it that elicits within readers feelings of a somewhat morbid respect. The extent of Balram’s success is emphasised throughout the entirety of the story. His description of his village of Laxmangah as “Electricity poles – defunct. Water tap – broken. Children – too lean and short”- contrasts with his numerous descriptions of his current house, with Balram even bragging about having “the only toilet in Bangalore with a chandelier!” This contrast is a visible representation of how far Balram has ascended within India society; an exaggerated depiction of an inherent drive within all people; not to simply endure, but to advance –in this case, within society-, and it this depiction which readers can feel a primal sense of envy and desire, and subsequently, admiration. Furthermore, Balram’s willingness to “see his family destroyed – hunted, beaten, and burned alive by the masters”, in order to be “a free man”, whilst sickening, demonstrates a tremendous determination which cannot help but elicit admiration –and abhorrence- within the reader. Readers are likely to experience feelings of admiration towards Balram due to both his readiness to do whatever it takes succeed, as well as due to the nature of his success.

The character of Balram is also likely to conjure feelings of disgust and contempt within readers. His lack of morals are exhibited throughout the novel, and continuously escalate. His willingness to lie to The Nepali guard of the Stork’s mansion, stating that he had “four years’ experience” as a driver, whilst certainly not a heinous act, is a simple demonstration of his indifference to behaving unscrupulously in order to achieve his goals. This indifference is further consolidated in his confession that he “hadn’t sent any money home for the past two months”. His unethicalness reaches a precipice -after dozens of examples throughout the novel- when he “rammed the bottle down…. The crown of [Ashok’s] skull”, killing his master and stealing seven-thousand rupees. This gradual escalation of Balram’s dishonourableness occurs alongside his steady corruption that comes with his social climb, and is most evident in the depiction of Balram becoming Ashok, both literally, re-naming himself as “Ashok Sharma,” upon his flight from authorities, and in nature, giving a rupee to a “homeless man and woman” and their “baby boy”, but “check[ing] to make sure it wasn’t a two-rupee coin”, directly after having stolen seven-thousand. This scene is eerily reminiscent of Mukesh’s (The Mongoose) tirade about Balram supposedly stealing a “single rupee” after having “paid half a million rupees in a bribe”. This scene in particular represents, sickeningly, either how far Balram has had to fall to achieve his success, or, how immoral he had been all along.

The White Tiger tells the tale of protagonist Balram Halwai, a man who escapes the almost insurmountable social constraints of India and achieves what most would consider success. The remarkable drive which Balram has, as well as the exceptional feats he goes to, to attain success will likely elicit feelings of admiration within the reader, yet, at the same time, will also evoke conflicting sensations of disgust and contempt.