Balram Halwai, the story's narrator, protagonist, and anti-hero, tells of his rise from village peasant to successful entrepreneur. He has a significant faith in his exceptionalism, thinking of himself as a "White Tiger" not tied to conventional morality or social expectations. It is through this alternate system that he is able to rearrange his life and identity. Balram's dark humor, cynicism, and perceptiveness form the lifeblood of <i>The White Tiger.</i>
Balram was born in the village of Laxmangarh, into a life he considers miserable. Despite his intelligence, he was forced to leave school early to work. Nevertheless, he continued educating himself by eavesdropping on conversations. As he progressed through the echelons of the underclass, eventually being hired as a driver for Mr. Ashok and the Stork, he developed a severe resentment against the upper classes, which eventually prompted him to murder Mr. Ashok.
His other aliases include Munna, the White Tiger, and Ashok Sharma.
Ashok is Balram's principal master, the Stork's son, and the Mongoose's brother. Exceedingly handsome, Ashok is also generally kind and gentle to those around him. Unlike the other members of his family, he trusts Balram immensely, and the latter senses a strange, profound connection between them. Ashok is childlike, with a short attention span, and generally dislikes his family's business dealings. Ultimately, his strange connection to Balram is not enough to save his life when Balram decides to murder him.
Pinky Madam is Ashok's wife, and just as good-looking as her husband. Because of her background, she is never fully accepted by Ashok's family. She is demanding, capricious, and deeply unsatisfied with life in India, constantly hoping to return to America, and is generally cruel to Balram. She eventually leaves Ashok to return to New York, and shows a deep grief over the hit-and-run that proved the last nail in the coffin of their relationship.
Krishna is Balram's teacher in Laxmangarh before Balram is pulled out of school by his family. He is responsible for giving Balram his first "real" name, but he generally proves himself emblematic of the corruption and inefficiency of Indian schools, since he embezzles the government funds allocated for uniforms and food.
Vikram Halwei is Balram's father, a rickshaw puller. Though he is not as attentive a parent as might be desired, he works extremely hard to provide for his family. Balram frequently thinks of his father and the sacrifices he made, and uses that resentment to inspire the murder. Vikram eventually died of tuberculosis in a deteriorating village hospital, a fate which largely motivates Balram to improve his station in life.
Balram's mother died when he was very young, and her funeral is one of his most vivid early memories. Her body was swallowed up by the dark mud of the Ganga River. His mother had a short, miserable life, and Kusum frequently disrespects her memory.
Kusum is Balram's grandmother, and the matriarch of the family, ruling through fear. Intimidating and sly, she attempts to exert her power over Balram, ensuring that he send money home once he becomes a driver, and later trying to coerce him into marrying. She has a habit of rubbing her forearms when she feels happy, a trait that Balram frequently comments upon.
Kishan is Balram's brother, who takes care of him in the wake of their father's death. He is a strong, father-like figure who has a formative effect on Balram's own development.
The Stork, actual name Thakur Ramdev, is one of the Four Animals, the four landlords who control Laxmangarh. A fat man with a large mustache, he owns the river and collects taxes from fishermen and boaters. He is father to Ashok and Mukesh (the Mongoose). His highly unethical business practices involve bribing officials, evading taxes, and stealing coal from government mines.
the Wild Boar
The Wild Boar is one of the Four Animals, the four landlords who control Laxmangarh. He owns the best agricultural lands around the village. He has two protruding teeth that resemble the tusks of a boar.
The Buffalo is one of the Four Animals, the four landlords who control Laxmangarh. He is considered the greediest of the four landlords. He owns and operates the rickshaws, and his son was kidnapped and killed by the Naxals, for which he visited retribution on the entire family of the servant who aided in that kidnapping.
The Raven is one of the Four Animals, the four landlords who control Laxmangarh. He owns the worst land, the dry, rocky hillside around the fort, and charges the goatherds who use this land for their flocks to graze. He is called the Raven because he likes “dip his beak into the backsides” of the goatherds who can’t pay. (“Dipping one’s beak” is a sexual euphemism that Balram uses).
The Mongoose, actual name Mukesh Sir, is one of the Four Animals, the four landlords who control Laxmangarh. He is the Stork's son and Ashok's brother. A much worse man than Ashok, he does not question the family's business practices and condemns Ashok's interest in the American way of life. Mukesh is favored by the Stork and has more influence in the family than Ashok does.
Ram Persad was the Stork's primary driver - and hence in charge of the Honda City - until Balram discovered that Ram was a Muslim and used that information to take control. After his secret is discovered, Ram Persad disappears without a word.
Vijay is Balram's childhood hero, his model of a man who improved his station in life by forging his own identity. The son of a pig herder, Vijay's first success came with becoming a bus conductor. Balram and the other village boys admire his prestigious job and his uniform. Later, Vijay enters politics and quickly rises in the ranks. By the end of the narrative, Vijay is a powerful politician, just as corrupt and power-hungry as any of the rich elites in the novel.
The Great Socialist is a powerful politician who controls the Darkness with the help of corruption and election fraud. He is described as having “puffy cheeks, spiky white hair” and “thick gold earrings” (86). People disagree as to whether he was always corrupt or if he began his political career with good intentions. Though his character essentially serves as an amalgam of typical corrupt Indian politicians, he is believed to be based on the actual politician Lalu Prasad Yadav.
Vitiligo-Lips is one of the other drivers Balram encounters in Delhi. His lips are marked by vitiligo, a skin disease that affects many poor people in India and causes a lightening of skin pigment. Vitiligo-Lips serves as a sort of guide to Balram in Delhi, introducing him to city life, answering his many questions, and giving him access to a variety of illicit products ranging from Murder Weekly magazines to prostitutes. Since most of the other chauffeurs and servants in Delhi mercilessly tease Balram and make him an outcast, Vitiligo-Lips is crucial to Balram's survival.
Dharam is a young relative of Balram's, sent to Balram by the family so he can be taken care of. Dharam is a sweet and obedient boy. Balram brings Dharam with him after the murder, and the two live together in Bangalore.
Ms. Uma is a former lover of Mr. Ashok's; he reconnects with her after Pinky Madam leaves. Though she begs him to marry her, Mr. Ashok is anxious about reintroducing her to his family. She is indifferent towards Balram, and ultimately plants the idea of replacing him into Ashok's head. Balram considers her a bad influence on his master.
Balram has countless aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews living in Laxmangarh. The family is very poor and traditional. Men and women sleep in opposite corners of the house. The most cherished member of the family is the water buffalo, who is kept fat and healthy and provides milk. Balram frequently feels guilty because Ashok's murder likely caused the death and torture of Balram's family.
Wen Jiabao is the Premier of China, to whom Balram addresses the letters that narrate the story.
Dilip is a cousin of Balram and Kishan; he accompanies them when they move to Dhanbad.
Ram Bahadur is the Stork's head servant at his mansion in Dhanbad. A cruel Nepali with little concern for Balram, he is blackmailed into making Balram head driver after Balram discovers that Ram Bahadur must have kept Ram Persad's secret.
the minister's assistant
The minister's assistant, Mukeshan, frequently takes advantage of Ashok when the latter comes to bribe his boss.
Anastasis is the prostitute Balram hires, hoping she will be like Kim Basinger, as Mr. Ashok's prostitute was. When he discovers that her blond hair is only dyed, he grows angry, and is assaulted by the manager.
Anastasia's pimp is called "the manager." He assaults Balram after he screams at Anastasia.
The Muslim shopowner in the secondhand book market of Old Delhi introduces Balram to Iqbal and the other great poets.
Ashok Sharma is the final alias Balram takes for himself, after reaching Bangalore. It is obviously taken from his former master's name.
Mohammad Asif works as a driver for Balram's company in Bangalore, and hits a boy who is riding a bike. Balram has to bribe the police to remedy the situation.
Wen Jiabao is the Premier of China, to whom Balram addresses the letters that narrate the story.
The White Tiger Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The White Tiger is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
One of the big issues is how India's social system has changed. Under the caste system, people's fates were predetermined, but they were happy, believing they belonged somewhere. However, the new social structure promises the possibility of social...
Balram frequently discusses the issues of social mobility in the new social hierarchy of India. Having idolized Vijay from childhood, Balram recognizes the possibility of moving up in the world, but has to confront the reality of such movement...
The title is taken from the nickname that the character Balram is given when he demonstrates remarkable intelligence and reading skill. White tigers are extremely rare and Balram begins to feel that he is so special that he then begins to act in...