The White Tiger

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Themes and Colors
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The White Tiger, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The White Tiger is the story of Balram Halwai’s life as a self-declared “self-made entrepreneur”: a rickshaw driver’s son who climbs India’s social ladder to become a chauffer and later a successful businessman. Balram recounts his life story in a letter to visiting Chinese official Premier Jiabao, with the goal of educating the premier about entrepreneurship in India. Though Jiabao is primarily interested in learning about entrepreneurship within the context of business and…

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Balram’s rise within Indian Society takes place in the aftermath of India’s liberation from British Rule (which lasted from 1858 to 1947) and the overthrow of India’s traditional caste system. Though the caste system unjustly segregated India’s population and restricted social mobility, locking each member firmly into a single way of life, Balram maintains that its abolition did nothing to improve inequality. Instead, he describes how India went from being an orderly “zoo” where each…

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The White Tiger is a story about how education, formal and otherwise, shapes individuals. Balram first receives his nickname –The White Tiger—in a classroom setting. Though over the course of the novel he attempts to embody his name by cultivating a ruthless, cunning streak and competing in Indian society, he originally earned the description for academic promise and integrity.

After being pulled out of school at an early age, Balram is left with only bits…

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Throughout the novel, Balram describes family as a destructive and burdensome part of Indian life, one that prevents its members from pursuing individual advancement and liberty. Balram’s grandmother Kusum embodies this negative image of family in the story. She shortsightedly pulls both Balram and his brother Kishan out of school at a young age, and attempts to arrange both brothers’ marriages early in life, before they are able to support families of their own. The…

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The White Tiger portrays an India that has not only lost its traditional social structure, but also outgrown a conventional moral framework. Balram’s description of the Light India versus the Dark India in the novel, which subverts usual associations of “Light” with virtue, and “Darkness” with immorality, reflects this upset of moral values. Light India is not virtuous at all. Rather, its members do whatever necessary to preserve their own wealth and power, acting morally…

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