Existential Struggle in The White Tiger

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Neo-liberal World of Globalization: Existential Struggle in The White Tiger

By Dr. M. Sreelatha (introduction at the end of the paper), Issue. XXVII, April 2017




Aravind Adiga, the contemporary Indian novelist is undoubtedly one of the outstanding figures in the realm of postmodern literature. He achieved this position through his masterpiece The White Tiger which brought him the 2008 Man Booker Prize for fiction. His novels are preoccupied with such emerging issues like globalization, urbanization, rich and poor divide, social disparity, technoculture, corruption, erosion of human relations and moral values. By fusing postmodern techniques of metafiction, dark humour, parody, pastiche, binary and multiple narrative voices with the prevailing issues of consumerism, materialism, deterioration of moral values, Adiga sensitively captivates the readers’ nerve. It is because of this sensitivity towards the changing realities that Adiga writes in tune with the global changes. The White Tiger is a story about the existential and class struggle of the protagonist. A neo-liberal country like India widens the gap between the rich and poor with its pro-capitalist, free-market policies that privilege a few.

Key Words:  Contemporary India, Globalization, Corruption, Postmodermism


Aravind Adiga has emerged as a writer who exposed the disastrous vices, malignant evils, political manipulations and social injustices prevalent in the contemporary India. He is a characteristic postmodern writer who portrays corruption, inequalities and the social evils that persist despite India’s slogan of progress and prosperity. He shot into international fame with the publication of his debut novel The White Tiger in 2008. The book won the coveted Man Booker’s Prize for fiction during the same year of its publication. Born in Chennai on 23 October, 1974 to Madhava Adiga and Usha, Aravind Adiga belonged to an educated family hailing from Mangalore, Karnataka. Adiga started his career as a financial journalist interning with Financial Times, Money, and Wall Street covering stock market, investment protocols and interviewing luminaries. He also wrote literary reviews, a famous one being on the Booker Prize winner Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda. He then moved to Time magazine where he served as South Asia correspondent for three years. Later he quit the job and opted to work as a freelancer. It was during his freelance period that he wrote the Man Booker Prize winning novel The White Tiger, thus becoming the fourth Indian to receive the Prize. His second book, Between the Assassinations a collection of twelve interlinked short stories was released in November 2008. Last Man in Tower (2011), being Adiga’s second novel, tells the story of a retired school teacher’s struggle to keep up the traditional values, his resistance to money and power.

The themes in Adiga’s works are different from that of modern Indian English literature. He concentrates on an entirely new set of themes as well as narrative techniques. He has a penchant for the depiction of recent issues and has the courage for the exploration of realities without ignoring the dark side of new India. In The White Tiger, he explores Balram’s struggle against the world of big bellies to climb up the social ladder. He also focuses on the dark side of shining India, sarcastically touching the injustices and brutal practices prevalent in new India.

The present paper analyses Adiga’s novel The White Tiger to highlight the effects of globalization in a neoliberal country like India. It shows how the gap between rich and poor widens with free-market policies consequently making rich people richer and poor people poorer.

The White Tiger is a story about the existential and class struggle of the protagonist. A neo-liberal country like India widens the gap between the rich and poor with its pro-capitalist, free-market policies that privilege a few. It has been pointed out that “the period since the neo-liberal economic reforms were introduced in India has been one of dramatically increased income inequality. This will come as no surprise to most people…to see the enormous increase in conspicuous consumption by the rich and even the urban upper middle income groups, and also to see side by side how the lives of the poor have become even more vulnerable and precarious”(Ghosh).

Written in the form of an epistle, a series of letters to the Chinese Premier, the novel unfolds the rags to riches story of the protagonist Balram Halwai. These letters tell how the narrator becomes a successful entrepreneur. According to Robbie Goh it is how a “rural yokel…becomes savvy businessman” (333). It is also a story of the protagonist’s journey from darkness to light.

Born to a rickshaw-puller in a small village of Laxmangarh, Balram calls it “the Darkness” because this village is shown as a typical village paradise on papers, but in reality the amenities provided by the government like electricity, telecommunications are defunct and broken. The people of the village are deprived of safe drinking water and nutritious food. The poor parts of India are referred to as the Darkness, a world filled with hunger, servitude and life-long debt. Like many poor people, Balram was not allowed to finish his school education. Instead he became a child labourer. He was an intelligent boy and was recognised as a “white tiger”—the rarest of animals—that only appears once in a generation. Balram was forced to take up a job as a cleaner in a tea shop. Later he was hired as a chauffeur by Stork, a village landlord, for his foreign returned son Ashok. Balram’s re-education begins as he watches Delhi from the driving seat of a Honda City. The city is a revelation. He is brought into “the capital of … glorious nation.” (118). He observes rich people living in big housing colonies like Defence Colony or Greater Kailash or Vasant Kunj and poor people living on the sides of the road and under the bridges. He says:

…all the roads look the same, all of them go around and around grassy circles in which men are sleeping or eating or playing cards, and then four roads shoot off from that grassy circle, and then you go down one road, and you hit another grassy circle where men are sleeping or playing cards…Thousands of people live on the sides of the road in Delhi. They have come from the Darkness too – you can tell by their thin bodies, filthy faces, by the animal-like way they live under the huge bridges and overpasses, making fires and washing and taking lice out of their hair. (119-120)

The contrast in the living standards of the poor and rich comes out as Balram watches the realities of Delhi. He observes huge apartments, shopping malls, call centers and traffic jams that expose the complexity of the metro-city. For him, Delhi is not just a shift of locality, but a shift from native cultural roots to high-tech commercial society. It reorients his behavior, his mind and sensibility. The city life becomes a metaphor—Balaram’s transformational matrix. His transformation from innocence to criminality, from a morally conscious sensibility to a violent, conspiratorial sensibility takes place. He learns the amoral culture and ways of deceiving the masters from other drivers. He changes “from a sweet, innocent village fool into a citified fellow full of debauchery, depravity and wickedness” (197).

Initially, Balram is an innocent driver. He possesses all the virtues of honesty and integrity. But the mall culture and its associative practices add new dimensions to his consciousness. The crime magazine Murder Weekly stands to be another source of information for innocent cooks, drivers and attendants. They develop a kind of discontent and revenge for the wrong-doings of their masters. Though his master Ashok was sympathetic to Balram, others in the family humiliate him. A feeling of hatred towards the master-class is generated in his mind. When Ashok’s wife Pinky kills a child during a drunken driving, his masters force him to sign a legal document confessing that he had run over the child. This incident increases his anger and rage against the master-class. His grudge is revealed as he says:

The jails of Delhi are full of drivers who are there behind bars because they are taking the blame for their good, solid middle-class masters. We have left the villages, but the masters still own us, body, soul, and arse….we all live in the world’s greatest democracy…The judges? Wouldn’t they see through this obviously forced confession? But they are in the racket too. They take their bribe, they ignore the discrepancies in the case. (169)

The complexity of the city culture on one hand, the growing grudge against the master-class on the other transforms the consciousness of Balram. Adiga compares the condition of servants, poor and underprivileged with the rooster coop situation:

Go to Old Delhi, behind Jama Masjid, and look at the way they keep chickens there in the market.  Hundreds of pale hens and brightly coloured roosters, stuffed tightly into wire-mesh cages, packed as tightly as worms in a belly, pecking each other and shitting on each other, jostling just for breathing space; the whole cage giving off a horrible stench – the stench of terrified, feathered flesh.  On the wooden desk above this coop sits a grinning young butcher, showing off the flesh and organs of a recently chopped-up chicken, still oleaginous with a coating of a dark blood.  The roosters in the coop smell the blood from the above.  They see the organs of their brothers lying around them.  They know they’re next.  Yet they do not rebel.  They do not try to get out of the coop.

The very same thing is done with the human beings in this country. (173-174)

            The poor are treated like caged animals, bonded labour and slaves. The White Tiger not only presents the humiliations, atrocities and cruelties perpetuated by one class over another, but also comments on the rising global power and neo-liberalism which have created a rift between the rich and poor. Apart from the slave like attitude of the servant class, the capitalist society which privileges the individual’s self-interest is the cause for socio-economic disparities.  Balram Halwai alias the white tiger wants to break from this rooster coop because he decides not to remain a slave. He desires to break the cage and unchain himself from the bond of servitude. Waiting for the ripe time, he seizes the moment when Ashok withdraws a large amount of seven hundred thousand rupees from the banks. For Balram the money “was enough for a house. A motorbike. And a small shop. A new life” (280). After a great deal of conflict between loyalty and disloyalty, honesty and dishonesty Balram resolves to murder Ashok. This alone can fulfill his ambition and his dream of leading a happy life, to be a master and not a slave. Finally, he rams the bottle of wine down the head of his master and smashes it. With the large amount of money, Balram boards a train to Bangalore along with his nephew. In Bangalore, he starts life afresh adopting the name of the master.

The White Tiger portrays a discordant, blatant present day India filled with a caustically bitter economic, social, and political satire. In a biting and ironical tone, Adiga attacks the entire global economic system which is market-oriented. He ruthlessly presents the reality underneath the logic of neo-liberal approach adopted after 1990 by many countries. The neo-liberal policies operating throughout have increased the gap between the rich and poor. Adding to this the poor like the hens in the rooster coop cannot think of improving their condition. Adiga uses irony and black humour to bring out the real condition of the social structure in India. The disparity of incomes and the master-servant relationship speaks of the defects, in fact the horrors of the apparently booming Indian economy.





Adiga, Aravind. The White Tiger. New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2008. Print.

Ghosh, Jayati. “ Income Inequality In India.” Countercurrents.org. 17 Feb. 2004. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

Goh, Robbie B.H. “Narrating ‘Dark’ India in Londonstani and The White Tiger: Sustaining Identity in Diaspora.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature. 46.2. (2011): 327-344. Print.

Nagpal, Pratibha. “Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger: A Critical Response.” The   Commonwealth Review 18.2 (2009): 151-61. Print.

Patra, Amalanjyoti. “Holding the Mirror to the Middle-Class Indian Elite: A Study of The White Tiger.The Commonwealth Review 18.2 (2009): 162-168. Print.



Introduction to the Author:

Dr. M. Sreelatha has been awarded doctorate by Kakatiya University, Telangana for her research work on “Postmodern Perspectives in Amitav Ghosh and Aravind Adiga’s Select Novels”. She is presently working as Lecturer in English, Dr.BRA Government Polytechnic, Karimnagar, Telangana, India. She has teaching experience of more than 20 years. She is a recipient of Gold Medal for securing the highest marks in Post Graduation (English Literature). She is also awarded as the Best Lecturer by the State Government of Andhra Pradesh in recognition of her service in teaching in the year 1999.

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