The White Tiger

Themes

Globalization

The White Tiger takes place in a time in which increased technology has led to world globalization, and India is no exception. In the past decade, India has had one of the fastest booming economies. Specifically Americanization in India has played its role in the plot, since it provides an outlet for Balram to alter his caste. To satisfy Pinky’s want for American culture, Ashok, Pinky, and Balram simply move to Gurgaon instead of back to America. Globalization has assisted in the creation of an American atmosphere in India. Ashok justifies this move by explaining "Today it’s the modernest suburb of Delhi. American Express, Microsoft, all the big American companies have offices there. The main road is full of shopping malls—each mall has a cinema inside! So if Pinky Madam missed America, this was the best place to bring her".[6] By blackmailing Ram Persad, the other driver, Balram is promoted and drives Ashok and Pinky to their new home.

Ashok is even convinced India is surpassing the USA, "There are so many more things I could do here than in New York now...The way things are changing in India now, this place is going to be like America in ten years".[7] Balram is noticing the rapid growth as well. From the beginning of his story he knows that in order to rise above his caste he should become an entrepreneur. Although his taxi service is not an international business, Balram plans to keep up with the pace of globalization and change his trade when need be. "I‘m always a man who sees ‘tomorrow’ when others see ‘today.’"[8] Balram's recognition of the increasing competition resulting from globalization contributes to his corruption.

Individualism

Throughout the book, there are references to how Balram is very different from those back in his home environment. He is referred to as the "white tiger"[9] (which also happens to be the title of the book). A white tiger symbolizes power in East Asian cultures,[10] such as in Vietnam. It is also a symbol for freedom and individuality. Balram is seen as different from those he grew up with. He is the one who got out of the "Darkness" and found his way into the "Light".

Freedom

In an interview[11] with Aravind Adiga, he talked about how "The White Tiger" was a book about a man’s quest for freedom. Balram, the protagonist in the novel, worked his way out of his low social caste (often referred to as "the Darkness") and overcame the social obstacles that limited his family in the past. Climbing up the social ladder, Balram sheds the weights and limits of his past and overcomes the social obstacles that keep him from living life to the fullest that he can. In the book, Balram talks about how he was in a rooster coop and how he broke free from his coop. The novel is somewhat of a memoir of his journey to finding his freedom in India’s modern day capitalist society. Towards the beginning of the novel, Balram cites a poem from the Muslim poet Iqbal where he talks about slaves and says "They remain slaves because they can’t see what is beautiful in this world."[12] Balram sees himself embodying the poem and being the one who sees the world and takes it as he rises through the ranks of society, and in doing so finding his freedom.

Immoral corruption

Balram was born to the low caste in India, meaning that he grew up in very poor living conditions. As a child, Balram was seen as being smart.[9] However, growing up, he was exposed into a lot of corruption and immoral behavior, e.g., the shopkeeper selling his employees' votes to the Great Socialist during election time. His childhood molded the person he was going to become in the future. Balram ends up doing anything to get himself into a higher caste and into the "Light". Balram becomes very selfish, evident by his many of his actions being equivocal in nature. This can be seen as both an immoral and moral way to improve oneself, especially if the country as a whole cheats, lies, and is full of deceit. His actions might be justified from the standpoint that anything since he was part of the losing crowd he might as well join the crowd that is winning, also known as "if you can't beat them join them." Finding ways to ensure the competition does not succeed, finding ways to get ahead of everyone else, and coming out on top are all a big part of the world and if you are constantly losing then you might as well play dirty to win. It can be seen as being moral because of the competitive nature of our globalized capitalist economic system. In a capitalist economy, any way one can get ahead is fair game. However, if one is looking at this from a non-personal standpoint, the actions Balram does are very immoral. He cheats people to put himself in a position to gain for himself. Balram does everything in his power for personal gain, even killing his boss.

Social class/caste

The book shows a modern day, capitalist Indian society with free market and free business. It also shows how it can create economic division. In India there are not social classes, there are social castes. The novel portrays India’s society as very negative towards the lower social caste.

The novel is based on the disparities of two worlds: darkness, inhabited by poor and underprivileged who cannot even meet their bare minimums; and the lighted world, inhabited by zamindars, politicians, businessmen etc. who shamelessly exploits the ones from darkness, making them even more poor and grows their own grandeur.[13]

Balram refers to it as the "Darkness". When Balram was asked which caste he was from, he knew that it could ultimately cause a biased stance in his employer and determine the future of his employment. There is definitely a big difference seen in Balram’s lower caste from back home and his current higher caste in their lifestyles, habits, and standards of living. This novel is showing how our economic system today creates socioeconomic gaps that create a big division in society. It limits opportunity, social mobility, health, and other rights and pleasures that should be given to all. There is a big difference in the amount of money spread around in society today and this book is alluding to that fact.


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