Monday, February 18, 2008

The White Tiger Review

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga is a series of letters from a man of modest beginnings who lives in India to a wealthy Chinese businessman. Balram Halwai of India was borne into "Darkness," a place where those of his low-class are destined to serve the upper classes until they die of starvation or sickness. The class struggles in this place are ugly, so Balram escapes in Delhi where he is lucky enough to find a job working as a driver for a rich man. In India, being a driver is essentially the same as being a slave, but Balram embraces his new life, as it holds more possibilities than life in his village would have.
Balram tells his life story in retrospect, stopping often to digress onto ideas like the racism present in India, and make statements which show his dislike of the lifestyles with which the rest of the world is familiar. The story is told very well, as Balram narrates with wit and reflects upon how he felt about the events in which he participated. And suspense is present from the very beginning; Balram tells his audience that he murdered his master in the beginning of the story and develops his reasoning slowly. The audience wonders how a slave from the lowest caste could kill such a high-powered individual.
This is really a story of moral corruption and makes a strong statement about society, telling how a humble man could find enough disgust in the lifestyle of another to be driven to kill. Are there really people who look upon the lives that we live here in America with such hatred that they are angered to this extent? It is an unsettling, stomach-dropping feeling to wonder is someone could hate your lifestyle so violently.
This is a very ironic story. Balram makes a startling point when he asks what the difference is between a poor and a rich man's dream: The poor, he says, dream of having enough to eat and growing fat, while the rich dream of becoming thin despite all their indulging. The differences in caste are brought into stark contrast here, differences that could exist anywhere in the world, not just in India. Balram illustrates that the rich do have so much disposable income and favors and power at their hands; yet they still lack qualities like faithful spouses, happiness, and fulfillment. The poorest castes surround themselves with family and rarely feel alone or unloved. Their shortcomings in food and wealth are softened, it seems, by their deep ties to one another.
Life's brutalities are shown in sharp focus in this novel. Humanity is capable of horrific things. When faced with the compilation of his life experiences, Balram finds is necessary to murder his superior with a glass bottle of whiskey: the very same bottle of whiskey that is so expensive a poor man in India would steal from the garbage of the rich and sell on the street to get some food for their family; the very same bottle that Balram's master drank each evening after having sent Balram into a dangerous situation where he would be attacked by other servants who all tried to steal the bottle, the very same bottle from which the rich drank in the backseats of limos as they cheated on the spouses. So should the horrors committed with this broken whiskey bottle be seen in a different light? There was blood on the bottle before Balram ever drove it into his master's neck, but, does that matter?
This novel has presented some very debatable, thought-provoking discussions. The reader is tempted to feel like their narrator has told them the truth and is deserving of their sympathies. However, had this story been told from the lips of a person from a high caste, would the reader be inclined to feel differently? The high caste has their servants steal from them so often it has become expected. And the rich are the ones who have rescued these poor people out of darkness and brought them into their homes where food and shelter are provided. Are they the ones who have been cheated by the low class? This is an issue that could be applied to the people of any country or any group. Divisions between high and low class exist within any group of people; it is important that we understand what these differences mean. How the ends of the spectrum view each other is another important issue to understand and this novel has provided a viewpoint into which we can see an example of the low class/ high class interaction.
Through the story, the reader is pulled along by human interest in the state of people’s lives in India, the suspense of a murder story, and thoughts regarding race and class divisions. This novel provides such an interesting vantage point of life in India and the life of the poor, raising questions of moral values which could be applied spanning across countries and cultures. The White Tiger is a novel of great cultural and moral value. It is of significant literary merit.


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