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 finance, Balram’s broad understanding of entrepreneurial activity –and also the scope of his story— complicates this traditional sense of the term. He believes that any Indian who acts to take charge of his own social and economic destiny qualifies as a true entrepreneur.
According to Balram, one primary characteristic of the self-made Indian man is his ability to repeatedly transform himself—to not only change his profession, uniform and outward presentation, but also his very identity. Balram believes that a fluid approach to identity is essential for successful entrepreneurship. He adopts a new name each time he moves up within India’s social hierarchy—Munna, Balram, Ashok, The White Tiger—and describes with admiration his childhood hero Vijay, a pig farmer’s son turned wealthy politician, for his versatile sense of self.
Balram claims that self-made entrepreneurs are not only adaptable with respect to identity, but also subject to a more fluid legal and moral code. Throughout the novel he argues that entrepreneurs in India can only become successful by breaking the law, and that this fact justifies their criminal activity. As a servant who murders his master and rises in society without suffering any consequences, Balram embodies this principle. At the same time, his triumphant retelling of his crimes and minimal expression of remorse paints a bleak portrait of Indian society. It is a world in which rising to the top involves cultivating indifference to human suffering, particularly the suffering of one’s inferiors. Balram’s own experience of cruelty at the hands of his more powerful masters seems not to contribute to his sense of compassion, but rather to his desire to become a master himself.
The Self-Made Man ThemeTracker
The Self-Made Man Quotes in The White Tiger
“The story of my upbringing is the story of how a half-baked fellow is produced. But pay attention, Mr. Premier! Fully formed fellows, after twelve years of school and three years of university, wear nice suits, join companies, and take orders from other men for he rest of their lives. Entrepreneurs are made from half-baked clay.”
“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.”
“Many of my best ideas are, in fact, borrowed from my ex-employer or his brother or someone else whom I was driving about. (I confess, Mr. Premier: I am not an original thinker—but I am an original listener.)”
“Now, despite my amazing success story, I don’t want to lose contact with the place where I got my real education in life. The road and the pavement.”
“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.”
“People in this country are still waiting for the war of their freedom to come from somewhere else...That will never happen. Every man must make his own Benaras. The book of your revolution sits in the pit of your belly, young Indian. Crap it out, and read.”