Aravind Adiga’s novel “The White Tiger” was awarded the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2008 and has sparked significant discussion and debate since then. The book has been commended for examining social and economic disparities in India. Still, it has also received a fair amount of criticism. The most prominent critique revolves around how the novel portrays the country and its people.

Some critics have raised concerns that “The White Tiger” portrays India narrowly and stereotypically. The novel focuses on themes of poverty, corruption, and social disparities, which perpetuates what has been called the “slumdog” narrative. This portrayal presents India as a place of deprivation and misery, ignoring the diverse and multifaceted nature of Indian society. According to critics, this narrow perspective overlooks India’s rich cultural heritage, varied landscapes, and the resilience of its people. Aravind Adiga, the novelist, has received a varied and rather mixed response to his debut work. In this article, we will analyse the same.

“The White Tiger” has received criticism for its portrayal of India and its narrative techniques. The novel is presented as a series of letters written by the protagonist, Balram Halwai, to the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao. Many critics doubt this epistolary format’s authenticity, considering it contrived and implausible. Balram’s voice often fails to sound genuine, and it is more like the perspective of an educated, middle-class individual rather than that of an impoverished villager from Bihar. The narrative’s heavy-handed use of irony and satire has also been criticised for being condescending and patronising, undermining the weight of the issues it aims to address.

Let’s talk about the protagonist a little more. The character of Balram Halwai dominates the narrative to such an extent that he overshadows every other character, both major and minor, in the novel. Balram’s overwhelming presence turns the story into a one-man show where his perspective and experiences take centre stage, leaving little room for the scrutiny or development of other characters. This imbalance in focus detracts from the novel’s purported reflection of society and social ambitions.

Balram is neither a representative of the oppressed nor the oppressors in a truly accurate sense. While he begins the story as a servant from a lower caste background, his ascent to success as an entrepreneur in Bangalore blurs the lines of his social positioning. His character evolves from a victim of his circumstances to a morally ambiguous figure who uses cunning and deceit to achieve his goals. However, even as Balram navigates his way through the stratified layers of Indian society, the depth and complexity of his character overshadow the potential for meaningful exploration of other characters’ perspectives.

This imbalance is particularly evident in the limited portrayal of characters who inhabit Balram’s world, such as his family members, employers, and fellow servants. While essential to Balram’s narrative journey, these characters remain underdeveloped and lack agency, serving primarily as foils to his ambitions rather than fully realised individuals with their own aspirations and struggles. By relegating other characters to the periphery, Adiga misses an opportunity to offer a more holistic depiction of the social dynamics at play in contemporary India.

Furthermore, the lack of scrutiny directed towards Balram by other novel characters undermines the narrative’s authenticity. In a society marked by entrenched hierarchies and power differentials, it is unrealistic to expect Balram to go unchallenged in his pursuit of social mobility. Yet, Adiga’s narrative fails to adequately explore the tensions and conflicts that would naturally arise from Balram’s audacious ambitions, further eroding the novel’s credibility as a reflection of societal realities.

It becomes evident! While Balram Halwai may serve as a compelling protagonist whose journey captures the reader’s attention, his overwhelming presence detracts from the novel’s ability to provide a nuanced portrayal of Indian society and its social ambitions. By overshadowing other characters and evading scrutiny from his peers, Balram’s narrative arc falls short of a comprehensive exploration of the complexities inherent in India’s socio-economic landscape. As a result, “The White Tiger” ultimately fails to fulfil its potential as a profound commentary on the pursuit of success and the price of ambition in contemporary India.

Aravind Adiga’s “The White Tiger” has also been criticised for oversimplifying the complexities of ambition and societal discontent in India. The novel conflates the notions of good and evil within society without fully acknowledging the nuanced motivations behind individuals’ actions. Adiga’s portrayal fails to recognise that while there may be instances of crime driven by ambition, most of India’s population is content with their lot in life and does not resort to extreme measures to alter their circumstances. The novel overlooks that a sense of resignation and acceptance often prevails in India, with many individuals finding solace and fulfilment within their existing social strata. Contrary to Adiga’s narrative, the impulse to commit crimes of ambition is not a prevalent phenomenon in Indian society. Instead, such actions are more commonly associated with societies like the United States, where instances of random violence and theft, such as looting in shopping malls, are increasingly reported. Adiga’s oversimplification of the crimes of ambition in India neglects the intricate interplay of socio-economic factors and cultural values that shape individual behaviour, thereby failing to offer a nuanced understanding of the society he seeks to critique.

In conclusion, “The White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga is a novel that elicits admiration and criticism for exploring societal inequities in India. Despite its accolades, the book has come under fire for portraying the nation and its inhabitants, narrative style, and characterisation. Critics argue that the novel’s myopic portrayal of India fails to capture its diverse tapestry. At the same time, its narrative devices and characterisations undermine its intended message. Ultimately, while “The White Tiger” offers a thought-provoking examination of class struggle and aspiration, it remains a debate within literary circles.


By Sonu for The Best Books

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