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 only when it is convenient for them. They are “Light” primarily in the sense that they can actually see the “light” of wealth and luxury, much as a plant might grow tall enough to see the light of day and further its own growth. Meanwhile, Rooster Coop logic prevails over Dark India: men dutifully behave according to familial and religious values, but they do so because they are terrified into submission, not out of genuine desire to lead a good life. In both cases, people sacrifice morality as they fight for survival within India’s cutthroat social landscape.
Traditional Indian values founded on deep religious faith and the teachings of venerated national heroes like Gandhi are similarly comprised. Throughout the book, Balram goes through the motions of religious faith and prayer largely to impress his master with his devotion. Yet he argues that he is both “sly and sincere, believing and mocking” at the same time: that this fickle embrace of faith is typical of Indian culture. Indians have a deep yearning for their past, when their country strived so heroically to define the terms of morality for itself, and yet this attachment does not necessarily inspire them to uphold those time-honored values.
In the midst of India’s moral upset, Balram develops his own personal moral framework founded on his sense of himself as a “white tiger”: a rare creature with superior intelligence who lives in the jungle but is exempt from its rules. His embrace of this notion that he is special and therefor deserves to exist outside legal and moral codes allows him to justify murdering his master Ashok, knowingly and callously exposing his own family to likely fatal vengeance, so that he can begin his first business—White Tiger Drivers—with Ashok’s money. Balram jokes, “The devil was once God’s sidekick until he went freelance.” He believes that the struggle to escape social and economic subjugation in Indian society, to go “freelance” and achieve control over one’s future, trumps traditional notions of good vs. evil, God vs. the devil, rendering actions the reader might consider immoral understandable, and yet also depicting the society that could make such actions understandable as brutally lost and corrupt.
Morality and Indian Society ThemeTracker
Morality and Indian Society Quotes in The White Tiger
“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.”
“They remain slaves because they can’t see what is beautiful in this world.”
“See, this country, in its days of greatness, when it was the richest nation on earth, was like a zoo... the day the British left—the cages had been let open; and the animals had attacked and ripped each other apart and jungle law replaced zoo law.”
“To sum up—in the old days there were one thousand castes and destinies in India. These days, there are just two castes: Men with Big Bellies, and Men with Small Bellies. And only two destinies: eat—or get eaten up.”
“We’re driving past Ghandi, after just having given a bribe to a minister. It’s a fucking joke, isn’t it.”
“... But where my genuine concern for him ended and where my self-interest began, I could not tell: no servant can ever tell what the motives of his heart are... We are made mysteries to ourselves by the Rooster Coop we are locked in.”
“The Rooster Coop was doing its work. Servants have to keep other servants from becoming innovators, experimenters, or entrepreneurs. Yes, that’s the sad truth, Mr. Premier. The coop is guarded from the inside.”
“The rest of today’s narrative will deal mainly with the sorrowful tale of how I was corrupted from a sweet, innocent village fool into a citified fellow full of debauchery, depravity and wickedness, All these changes happened in me because they happened first in Mr. Ashok.”
“You were looking for the key for years/ But the door was always open!”
“Let animals live like animals; let humans live like humans. That’s my whole philosophy in a sentence.”
“We went from bank to bank, and the weight of the red bag grew. I felt its pressure increase on my lower back—as if I were taking Mr. Ashok and his bag not in a car, but the way my father would take a customer and his bag—in a rickshaw.”
The city has its share of thugs and politicians. It’s just that here, if a man wants to be good, he can be good. In Laxmangarh, he doesn’t even have this choice. This is the difference between this India and that India; the choice.”
“Yet...even if they throw me in jail...Ill say it was all worthwhile to know, just for a day, just for an hours, just for a minute, what it means not to be a servant. I think I am ready to have children, Mr. Premier.”