In his debut novel, authorAravind Adiga has created the lowly, dejected man, Balram Halwai, who drives himself from poverty into India’s middle class by becoming a so-called “entrepreneur.”
In The White Tiger, Balram yearns to loosen the socio-economic stranglehold of India’s caste system, eventually cutting the throat of his trusting and kind master, Mr. Ashok.
Balram abhors the certainty of his place in society. “All I would do, if I had children, was teach them to be asses like me, and carry rubble around for the rich.”
Adiga carefully lures the reader into accepting that murder is a rational solution to Balram’s troubles. “Let animals live like animals; let humans live like humans. That’s my whole philosophy in a sentence,” Balram says. “
Am I not a human being too?” Balram wondered, hoping to escape the demented life of his caste.
Yet Balram can’t help but see the differences between himself and Mr. Ashok. “I washed my hands for ten minutes, and dried them, and washed them again, but it made no difference. No matter how much you wash your hands after you have massaged a man’s foot the smell of his lid, flaky skin will stay on you skin for an entire day…A rich man’s body is like a premium cotton pillow, white and soft and blank. Ours are different,” Balram acknowledges.
Balram is also frustrated by the lack of action by his fellow poor. “The roosters in the coop smell the blood from 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.”
In calculated and callous preparation, Balram banks Mr. Ashok won’t figure out he’s stealing from him and planning to kill him, as they both believe “the trustworthiness of the servants is the basis of the entire Indian economy.”
“The roosters in the coop smell the blood from 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”
Balram justifies his murderous thievery by acknowledging, “The more I stole from him, the more I realized how much he had stolen from me.”
But as the story unfolds, it is clear that killing his master did not deliver Balram from darkness.
Balram’s desire to break out of poverty may arouse sympathy in San Quentin prisoners, but his methods of doing so are unacceptable to their rehabilitative tenets, which are grounded in understanding that revolution cannot include violence against another human being. Profit and social mobility are not justifications for murder, as Balram claims them to be.
The severe inequality between the poor and the wealthy elite has been addressed in many classic works. Richard Wright’s Native Son is another story of a servant killing his superior, though the servant is sympathetic because he was a victim acting out of fear.
In Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man, the protagonist was so frustrated by his place in society that he chose to physically disappear. In A Modest Proposal, Jonathan Swift satirically suggests eating the poor as a solution to overpopulation and poverty. The Final Solution, which rationalized the Holocaust, attacks the so-called privileged in society. The question remains of where to place The White Tiger with its greed, murder, and sadness all piled up in one story.
But not all is lost in this black tale of caste, master, servant, delivery, and death of a lifestyle. Adiga has touched on the nature of man where oppression seems to be cross-culture commonality.
Balram fought to understand why the relationship between rich and poor in India was built on a sham sense of emotional turmoil. “Do we loathe our masters behind a façade of love — or do we love them behind a façade of loathing?”
However, Balram’s saving grace was knowing the value of education, learning and reading. Only in the arts, can man create dreams of his own desire by questioning, “…can a man make himself vanish with poetry?” The lesson learned is that “the moment you recognize what is beautiful in this world, you stop being a slave.”
Juan’s Book Review