Light and Darkness in The White Tiger

June 20, 2019 by Essay Writer

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”.

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