The White Tiger

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The White Tiger Symbol Analysis

The White Tiger Symbol Icon

Balram’s natural intelligence and integrity set him apart from his peers from an early age. On one occasion, his academic prowess so impresses a visiting school inspector that the official calls him a “White Tiger”: the most noble and intelligent animal in the jungle. Throughout his life, Balram’s concept of himself as a White Tiger and as an exceptional person motivates him to advocate for himself and fight for his own advancement. His conviction that he is somehow special also causes him to feel exempt from traditional moral and legal standards, empowered to live life on his own terms.

The morning before he murders his master Ashok, Balram encounters a white tiger in the Delhi zoo. After locking eyes with the animal and fainting on the spot, he decides to commit the murder and dictates a letter to his grandmother Kusum apologizing in advance, and explaining that he cannot live in a cage any longer. Balram’s identification with his namesake emboldens him and convinces him that he is justified in moving forward with his plan.

The White Tiger Quotes in The White Tiger

The The White Tiger quotes below all refer to the symbol of The White Tiger. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Free Press edition of The White Tiger published in 2008.
Chapter 1: The First Night Quotes

“You, young man, are an intelligent, honest, vivacious fellow in this crowd of thugs and idiots. In any jungle, what is the rarest of animals—the creature that comes along only once in a generation?”
“The white tiger.”
“That’s what you are, in this jungle.”

Related Characters: The Inspector (speaker), Balram Halwai
Related Symbols: The White Tiger
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

While describing his flawed education, Balram recounts a pivotal moment in which he is promised a scholarship. His teacher called him a "white tiger," an image that he will adopt throughout the novel.

The white tiger stands, here, for both Balram’s faculties and his moral integrity. Between the descriptors of “intelligent” and “vivacious”—which speak only to talent—the teacher uses the most pivotal one: “honest.” Myriad references are made to the unscrupulous natures of other characters throughout the novel—the “thugs and idiots”—and thus Balram’s character is particularly unique because he maintains a moral compass. Indeed, the teacher argues that this is such a unique behavior that it “comes along only once in a generation.” This singularly ethical nature in Balram gives him grounds to receive the scholarship from the teacher and seems to set him apart from society.

Although this memory might seem very promising for Balram, the text’s use of animal imagery foreshadows how the protagonist will continue to be entrapped by social forces. The teacher may affirm that Balram is a white tiger, but he qualifies it with the phrase “in this jungle,” drawing attention to the wild and brutal environment in which Balram finds himself. Indeed, the promise of a scholarship will end unfulfilled due to the cruelty of the "animal" crime lords (The Stork, etc) who control his town. Thus even as the white tiger image marks Balram for his singularity of purpose and integrity, it also confirms that he must navigate and fight his way through a cruel, antagonistic environment in order to succeed.

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The White Tiger Symbol Timeline in The White Tiger

The timeline below shows where the symbol The White Tiger appears in The White Tiger. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: The First Night
Education Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
...singles him out for his academic promise and integrity. The man calls Balram a “ White Tiger ,” the rarest and most noble animal in the jungle, and promises him a scholarship.... (full context)
Chapter 5: The Fifth Night
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
...family unit is the reason the Rooster Coop stays intact, and that it takes a White Tiger , someone willing to see his family destroyed, to escape. (full context)
Chapter 7: The Sixth Night
Education Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
...knowledge of the crime he plans to commit. When he and Dharam come upon a white tiger pacing back and forth in his cage, Balram locks eyes with the animal and faints.... (full context)
Chapter 8: The Seventh Night
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
...eliminate his competition and make him appear as a legitimate businessman, he creates his “start-up”: White Tiger Drivers. (full context)
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
White Tiger Drivers is an immediate success, and Balram quickly becomes a wealthy man. He renames himself... (full context)