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Literature / The White Tiger

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Why yes, the car is significant.
School inspector: 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?
Balram: The white tiger.
School inspector: That's what you are, in this jungle.

Chock full of satire and black humor, The White Tiger depicts the life of Balram Halwai—the eponymous White Tiger who only comes 'once in a generation—of how he starts as a lowly driver from the Darkness of India and manages to become a successful social entrepeneur with cunning, intelligence, and murder.

Told in the format of a series of letters to Wen Jiabao, the Premier of China. (Yes, It Makes Sense in Context.)

It is author Aravind Adiga's debut novel, and won the Man Booker Prize in 2008.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Affair Hair: How Balram realizes that Ashok slept with the Ukrainian student.
  • Animal Motifs: The white tiger. A few other characters have animal motifs related to them, most notably the landlords of the village of Laxmangarh.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Whenever Vitiligo-Lips asks Balram if his master wants anything.
    Vitiligo-Lips: Been thinking about what I said, Country-Mouse? [...] About getting your master something he'd like? Hashish, or girls, or golf balls? Genuine golf balls from the U.S. Consulate?
  • Badass Driver: Balram, duh.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Some people (like Balram and Mr. Ashok) have their Pet the Dog moments, but it's pretty clear everybody else kind of sucks.
  • Black Humor: The White Tiger is notable for portraying the corruption and tragedies of Indian life in a rather witty manner.
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  • Bribing Your Way to Victory: Everybody. All the time. No exceptions.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: When Balram first comes to Delhi as a driver, he's described as a 'sweet, innocent village fool'. He doesn't stay that way.
  • Crapsack World: The Darkness, where all the poverty-stricken people reside. Keep note that the rural Indian society, as such, is full of rampant corruption within politicians and policemen and pretty crappy to live in if you're not rich.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Balram.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Balram takes over Ashok's identity after he kills him.
    • I think he just took his name. There's no way he could have pretended to be Ashok without Ashok's family tracking him down.
  • Equivalent Exchange: Balram managed to move away from the Darkness to the light, but in exchange, he got darkness in his heart.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: How Balram kills Ashok.
  • Happiness in Slavery: The whole 'Rooster Coop' analogy explains the phenomenon of how 80% of Indians are in a way servants who simply cannot not obey their masters (the other 20%).
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: Really sad example here: while Balram's father worked his guts out being a rickshaw puller, he ultimately ends up nowhere and dies of tuberculosis.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Balram believed that the only way he could have become an entrepreneur and broken out of the coop was to kill Ashok. Hell, when you look at how things work, he's probably right.
  • Irony: Chock full of it.
  • Jerkass: Pretty much everyone to some degree.
  • Light Is Not Good: Technically, life in the Light side of India is far preferable than in the Darkness, but remember all the rampant corruption we were talking about?...
  • Nice Guy: Ashok, who is frequently described by Balram as "virtuous."
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Vitiligo-Lips and the landlords.
  • Pet the Dog: Even though Balram kills Mr.Ashok and shamelessly bribes the police to start his own business, he does have his moments, such as taking his nephew Dharam to the zoo and compensating the family of the boy one of his taxi drivers killed.
  • Precision F-Strike: What a fucking joke, indeed.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Depressingly enough, the perpetual bribery that goes on between the rich of India and the government.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Whenever Balram starts talking about his or someone else's "beak."
  • Unreliable Narrator: All we know is what Balram writes. Given that he is a confessed murderer, thief and fraudster the reader should not take his statements at face value. Even if we foolishly assume he is perfectly honest, it is entirely his self-justifying rememberance and his perspective we get.
  • Villain Protagonist: Balram, to some. It's really hard to tell.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The Great Socialist.


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