White Tiger, written in 2008, won its author Aravind Adiga the Booker Prize. The book tells a story of transformation of a young Indian man Balram Halwai who breaks out of the vicious cycle of his family history and forms his own identity.
The book offers a great material for analysis as it explores the life of an individual in a globalized world, the influence of traditions and the necessity to adapt to a new reality. The author reveals the murkiest parts of the Indian reality, however, providing hope for its future.
The Author’s Background
When writing a book review, it makes sense to say a couple words about the author’s background that would explain his choice of the topic, the themes and the qualifications. The reader should have an idea why they should trust a particular author about their conclusions.
Concerning the White Tiger, its author Aravind Adiga was born in India and even finished school there before immigrating to Australia. It provided him with a unique possibility to compare the two cultures and reconsider his Indian past from a different perspective. Therefore, the author is trustworthy as his life experience underpins the conclusions of this book.
The author employs a very sarcastic, playful, but also assertive tone which makes the descriptions of the dilapidated Indian infrastructure and corrupt societal practices look less sorrowful and more anger-inducing.
This tone also creates an appealing and relatable character Balram, who he does not give up in face of circumstances and is capable of finding irony in the most dejected conditions.
The Main Character
It is always worth examining the main character’s identity more vigorously. In our case, Balram Halwai undergoes various developmental stages before the reader encounters him at the end of his journey. However, even in the book final chapter it is not clear whether it is going to be his ultimate persona.
When Balram just starts life as a little boy, he is not even given a name. His family does not care to give him one as they are too busy with their daily routine of hard-working Indian peasantry. Therefore, Balram is simply referred to as a boy.
After one teacher is generous enough to give him a name, he still is not satisfied with his identity. Barlam sees that despite achieving a better position than society assigned for him from birth, he still belonged to the underclass. Thus, his goal was to complete his transformation, which he facilitated by committing a murder.
Here Barlam’s actions are reminiscent of those by Rodion Raskolnikov who also views crime as a way to break free from societal expectations and prove oneself. In the end, Barlam adopts a name of his master – Ashok Sharma, which marked the formation of his eventual identity.
Apart from examining the characters and their identities, it is also essential to assess the context in which they interact. Context is a powerful instigator that can explain many controversial events and decisions that transpire in the book.
For instance, in the White Tiger we have an Indian society that is deeply divided because of wealth inequality and rampant corruption. Despite the author’s attempts to cover it all up with his impeccable sense of dark humor, a smart reader will see the deplorable and heart-wrenching situation through the façade of irony.
Aravind Adiga shows two Indias – one of the Light and one of the Darkness. The one of the Light is prosperous, innovative and European, whereas the one of the Darkness is poor, corrupt and backwards. If before there were castes that separated people, now it was the birthplace. The fact whether you were born in the Light or in the Darkness determined your whole life.
Barlam struggles throughout the novel to get out of the Darkness and join the Light. He is sympathetic with the poor, however, not letting his sentiments prevail over rational decisions that would bring him closer to his goal.
Barlam comes from the family of sweet makers, therefore, everybody expects him to follow his ancestors’ footsteps. Even though castes are not a thing anymore, people adhere to traditions and superstitions as if they still hold true.
Barlam is determined not to repeat the fate of his family members, especially of his father who died in a hospital that had no doctors because of corruption. He understands that in order to succeed in life, he needs to break free of the shackles of tradition and keep abreast with the times.
Although lacking formal educations, Barlam eavesdrops on other people’s conversations trying to figure out his own success formula. He has an entrepreneurial spirit and an unrestrained tradition, at the same time, knowing when to play servile to those more powerful than him.
Despite this unbridled desire to be different, Barlam never completely abandons his Indian identity. He still fears modern technology and remains superstitious about lizards. Barlam is successful in his attempt to adapt, but he never transforms absolutely.
The author portrays the world as inherently divided through the main character’s eyes. There is the world of men with empty bellies and that of men with big bellies. There are the poor and the rich. The Light and the Darkness.
Inequality pervades all spheres of life. The masters and the servants have separate stores, distinct hospitals and ways of living. Habits common in Barlam’s circle are seen as provincial and unsophisticated in the house of Barlam’s master – Stork.
However, this inequality is not only the servants’ problem. Stork and his son Ashok are forced to pay bribes to the Great Socialist who controls the city. Here the Great Socialist is more a symbol, rather than a real person, much like the Orwellian Big Brother.
Despite the despicable pictures of inequality, Adviga does not support socialist ideas, by portraying the Great Socialist as the principal villain. The main character in his book advances thanks to an individualist mentality and ingenuity, the qualities celebrated by the capitalist system.
Morality is uniquely represented in the White Tiger. From one side, the author condemns corruption and insensitivity of the city’s tycoons. However, he also shows that one needs to update their ideas on morality if they want to get somewhere in life.
Barlam readjusts his views every time it is necessary for him to move forward. For instance, he manages to justify murder by looking at it not from an individual act’s perspective, but rather as a step away from societal preconceptions about him.
He oscillates frequently about feelings, but always succeeds in making the logical decision that would get him the farthest in his pursuit. Sometimes, he would allow himself a little kindness, like when he cared for the family of a boy who got run down by a car. However, Barlam avoids those undertakings that would endanger his own position.
In conclusion it is worth summarizing the main ideas off the book as well as providing recommendations. In case of the White Tiger, I would heartily recommend this book not only to those interested in Indian lifestyle, culture and issues, but to anyone curious about globalization, the world problems and human nature in general.
It is important to be truthful in your evaluation of the book. Even if the book is critically acclaimed, do not praise it if you see no reason for it. You do not have to like a good book. Nonetheless, when you find some positive aspects, make sure to indicate them as they can persuade the reader to give it a try.