The White Tiger


Aravind Adiga

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The White Tiger Study Guide

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Brief Biography of Aravind Adiga

Aravind Adiga is a writer and journalist raised in India and Australia. He studied English literature at Columbia College and Oxford University. Before pursuing his career as a fiction writer, Adiga worked as both a correspondent for Time Magazine and a financial journalist for the Financial Times. His experience working as a business journalist caused him to mistrust business magazines and get-rich-quick literature, informing the tone with which he describes India’s economic boom in The White Tiger. He currently lives in Mumbai, India.
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Historical Context of The White Tiger

The White Tiger takes place in modern day India, but Balram traces the socioeconomic inequality with which he struggles back to 1947: the year India gained its independence from Britain through the Indian Independence Act. The act made India independent, which quickly led to race riots between Muslim and Hindu Indians, and the establishment of Muslim Pakistan as a separate independent state. In the 1960s, shortly after gaining their independence, Indians abolished the Caste System, which had rigidly enforced the social role of all Indians under British Rule and for thousands of years before that. Balram believes that the disorganization and chaos following the end of the caste system has contributed to even more extreme inequality. The action of The White Tiger takes place in economically flourishing modern India. After approaching bankruptcy in 1991, the Indian government received a major loan from the International Monetary Fund and began a program of economic liberalization, resulting in a high rate of economic growth and foreign investment that continues to this day. Unfortunately, the economic boom has also drastically increased income inequality. The White Tiger tells the story of those left behind in the midst of India’s rapid economic rise.

Other Books Related to The White Tiger

Adiga considers a range of authors from different literary periods as his personal influences. He identifies three black American novelists—Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Ralph Ellison—as his primary influences in writing The White Tiger. Ellison’s Invisible Man in particular seeks to give the invisible, disenfranchised members of American society—namely, a black man—a voice, just as Adiga reveals the injustices that thousands of poor Indians continue to suffer today through Balram’s story. Balram’s belief in himself as an exceptional person or White Tiger, and his related belief that he is entitled to live according to his own alternative moral standards, is similar to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment in which the central character, Raskolnikov, convinces himself that his exceptional need and capabilities justify murdering and robbing a defenseless old woman, just as Balram’s drive him to murder his master. Yet the contrast between the two books is also instructive. Raskolnikov commits his crime, is driven almost mad by guilt, ultimately confesses (and would have been caught anyway), and then has a religious epiphany in a Siberian prison camp while with the woman he loves who followed him to the camp. Balram commits his crime, feels a little guilt, cuts himself off from his family forever (and likely dooms his family to death), bribes the police to make himself invulnerable, and luxuriates in his success and holds himself up as an entrepreneurial exemplar. This contrast illustrates a tremendous difference between the two societies depicted in Crime and Punishment and The White Tiger, one with the culture and institutions that result in crime being punished both morally and legally, the other so corrupt that crime can be seen as the perpetrator as necessary, as moral, as a path to well-earned wealth.
Key Facts about The White Tiger
  • Full Title: The White Tiger
  • When Written: 2005-2008
  • Where Written: USA and India
  • When Published: 2008
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Novel
  • Setting: Modern day India
  • Climax: The White Tiger does not strictly conform to a linear, chronological format, as Balram’s narration jumps constantly between different periods of his life. However, the novel is loosely structured around Balram’s murder of his master Mr. Ashok. His decision to record his life story is in part an attempt to explain the series of events that led to the crime, and to describe life in its aftermath.
  • Antagonist: While Balram’s master Ashok may be his most obvious antagonist, Balram perceives many characters in the novel to be his enemies. These characters include his own family members, particularly his grandmother Kusum, as well as Ashok’s family: the Stork, Mukesh Sir, and Pinky Madam. Finally, his fellow servants in the Stork’s household, Ram Bahadur and Ram Persad, are also briefly his antagonists.
  • Point of View: The White Tiger is the first-person narrative of Balram Halwai’s life. Balram recounts his story in a letter to a visiting Chinese official with the goal of educating the official about entrepreneurship in India.

Extra Credit for The White Tiger

Man Booker. When The White Tiger won the 2008 Man-Booker literary prize, Adiga became the fourth Indian-born author to win the prestigious award.