The White Tiger

The White Tiger Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What is Balram's attitude toward religion? How does this develop throughout the novel?

    Balram is cynical and sarcastic when it comes to religion, not terribly afraid of blasphemy. And yet there are also signs that he is deeply spiritual, that he has internalized many of the religious sensibilities and superstitions of rural Indian village life. He definitely believes in the presence of deities, but is unafraid of them. That he persists with his murder despite this belief system shows how fully he develops his own moral code in order to justify his behavior. Religion is just one of many things that he decides to dismiss in the pursuit of his own ambition.

  2. 2

    Is there a way to justify Balram's decision to murder Ashok and thus sacrifice his family?

    For most readers, Balram's willingness to kill and to sacrifice his entire family will initially seem monstrous and unforgivable. However, over the course of the novel, Adiga provides a convincing case for the justifiability of Balram's actions. In the context of the oppression and injustice of a social system defined by what Balram terms "The Rooster Coop," Balram's actions are much easier to understand. Of course, he is presenting his own side of the story, and his engaging, charismatic personality goes a long way towards gaining a reader's sympathy. Ultimately, the question is layered enough that a grey moral area emerges. In this world where Western ideals of self-improvement and independence clash with India's social rigidity and family-based mentality, it is easy to see how Balram's perspective could be so extreme, and yet defensible.

  3. 3

    How does this portrayal of India differ from more typical literary depictions of India?

    For many readers, much literature about India exoticizes and idealizes the nation, portraying India as a foreign, tantalizing "other." The classic example of this portrayal of India can be found in the stories of Rudyard Kipling. Adiga's account of India diverges significantly from this mode, depicting the unglamorous realities of the country in an intimate and direct manner. Writing in the tradition of the social exposé, Adiga ruthlessly uncovers India's shortcomings while simultaneously conjuring a vivid and genuine representation of its beauty. Both literary modes provide a depiction of the country that is not entirely "real" or "authentic," and the extent to which approaches such as Adiga's are "superior" is a hotly contested question in the literary world.

  4. 4

    What is Balram's view of the caste system?

    Balram holds a positive view of the caste system, which has traditionally been prevalent in India. He expresses a significant degree of nostalgia for life under the caste system, praising the sense of orderliness that pervaded the nation when one's fate was determined at birth by the position of one's family. In his mind, people were stuck where they were, but they understood that as natural, and so there was a general sense of satisfaction. Balram's meditation on the caste system makes a powerful point about the state of social mobility in post-caste India, which seems to have preserved the worst elements of the caste system while dispensing with the emotional safety it provided. Naturally, there are plenty of ways to argue that the caste system carried its own systemic flaws, but Balram does not focus on those. Instead, he sees the current age as one which promises social mobility but which cannot provide it for the underclass, causing an anger which he exploits in himself and foresees as the eventual birth of a new revolution.

  5. 5

    How does The White Tiger compare to other works of social commentary and other exposés?

    The novel is written in the tradition of exposé writing, pioneered by authors such as Charles Dickens. This type of novel uses its plot as a means to examine social institutions and constructs in a journalistic way. Like Dickens, Adiga's background is in journalism, a field dedicated to exposing social ills through media. However, the high degree of cynicism and dark humor that pervades The White Tiger differentiates this novel from some other more earnest examples of exposé writing. Balram's darkly comic edge provides an ironic and yet emotional edge that transcends the direct, documentary-style exposé.

  6. 6

    Why does Balram choose to address his narrative to the Premier of China? How would the story have been different without this framing device?

    By having Balram address his narrative to the Chinese Premier, Adiga comments upon India's future in the globalized world. Balram's attitude towards the Chinese Premier indicates his belief in the likelihood of Sino-Indian alliance, and allows him to meditate upon what he believes is the white man's waning power. On a smaller scale, this narrative device adds a sense of pomp and grandiosity to Balram's narrative, since he is addressing a powerful world leader. This only exacerbates his bombastic, overconfident character, and the extent to which he has rationalized the choices he has made. Finally, one could see Balram's choice as a suggestion that he does not actually plan to send the letters, a decision which would of course lead him to his arrest.

  7. 7

    Discuss Balram's many names throughout the novel, and how each one represents an aspect of him.

    Over the course of his narrative, Balram transforms from Munna to Balram to the White Tiger to Country-Mouse and, finally, to Ashok Sharma. He begins his journey as a blank slate, the nameless "boy" who, by virtue of this omission, is free to ultimately craft his own identity. Some of the names he comes to possess are simply bestowed upon him: "Balram," for example, designates him as the subsidiary sidekick of the teacher Krishna. Other identities are given meaning by Balram himself. The "White Tiger," a name first envisioned by the government inspector but seized upon and fully embraced by Balram, is the formative identity which empowers him to escape from the Rooster Coop. With the final name, Ashok Sharma, Balram completes a climactic fusion between himself and his former employer Ashok, definitively staking out a space for himself within the Light.

  8. 8

    Balram considers family to be one of the major mechanisms trapping people in the Rooster Coop. What is Adiga's overall message about family?

    While traditional family values are one of the only redeeming qualities about life in the Darkness, Adiga avoids idealizing these values, as is commonly done in literary depictions of India. In contrast, Balram must shake off the restrictive yoke of family in order to escape the Darkness. He has to literally sacrifice them in order to realize his own potential. Thus, Adiga's message in The White Tiger links modernization to individualism. The ideal of the individual, so fully embraced in Western society, is depicted as fundamentally incompatible with traditional Indian values. The esteem placed upon the Indian family thereby becomes a barrier to modernization and a tragic martyr in the quest for a new India.

  9. 9

    What does Balram's experience in Bangalore reveal about the Indian economy in an increasingly globalized world?

    Balram's new life as an entrepreneur in Bangalore demonstrates the increasingly interconnected, international scale of the Indian economy. His experience sheds light on how the country is adapting and evolving in a new global environment. Balram is explicit about this connection. His quest to create a business is indicative of both massive future potential, but also of the growing pains of the new sectors of technology and related fields emerging in the Indian economy. And finally, the extent to which he goes in order to compete on this scale shows how fundamentally disconnected the majority of Indian citizens actually are to that.

  10. 10

    How does Balram's personality affect the reader's interpretation of events?

    Balram's cynicism, darkly comic tone, and bombastic overconfidence serve as an engaging narrative strategy. At the same time, however, the colorful and obviously opinionated nature of his prose provokes a certain degree of distrust in the reader, with Balram functioning as an unreliable narrator, a common literary trope. Together, these two forces create a relationship between reader and narrator that is uneasy and complex, reflecting the moral grey areas and contradictory characteristics of the protagonist himself.