The novel ‘The White Tiger’ has provoked many contrasting interpretations concerning the veracity of its presentation of India. A lack of verisimilitude can be seen in this novel in the presentation of many of the events and much of the characterisation including Adiga’s focus on India’s corruption which is contrasted with the glamorisation of Pinky Madam and Ashok’s American life and ideals. There is also much supporting evidence of exoticism in what is considered to be Adiga’s attempts to create a presentation of India that will fit his Western readership’s expectations. This is reflective of critic Edward Said’s key post-colonial idea that the East is always conceived of as something the West is not, with the East being viewed as exotic and corrupt and the West not. This creates a sense of ‘otherness’ which suggests that Western civilisation and culture should be the norm and so are a different entity to the East. Hence, Adiga is able to create a narrative that Western audiences feel is radical merely because it is an exploration of a country that they can’t fully comprehend.
Adiga’s key idea in this novel is that “India is two countries in one; an India of light and an India of darkness”. Explorations of the complete corruption of the lower classes (referred to as ‘the darkness’) are present throughout the novel and come to their height with Balram’s murder of his boss, Mr. Ashok, in his attempt to climb the social ladder into ‘the light’. This idea is immediately and consistently presented in what is described as the new caste system in which there are only “men with big bellies and men with small bellies”. This implies that India has only extreme wealth and extreme poverty, a cliché which Balram plays into in his descriptions of the disparity between “the children, too lean and short for their age” and the landlords who inherited their wealth. This
contrast between classes is reflective of the idea that the West commonly maintains a narrow view of India, either believing that the country is the ‘library of ancient knowledge’ or is a country floundering in poverty, disease and hungry bellies. This narrow mindset inhibits the Western audience from differentiating a truthful presentation from one written in such a way that it falls into the stereotypes they believe to be true. This therefore supports the claim that conceptions of India’s ‘otherness’ mean a Western audience are unable or unwilling to see flaws in Adiga’s presentation.
Further ways this distinction between ‘darkness’ and ‘light’ within India cause problems for Adiga’s presentation is the way he attempts to present these divisions. From the offset he seems to allude to the idea that the divisions are mostly regional, with the contrast between Balram’s childhood village and the city of Delhi being emphasised. However, this is contrasted by his main character as we see him living in conditions of the ‘darkness’ while technically living in a place of ‘light’. This shows that the divisions are also economic and social, and so are much more complex than the way in which Adiga presents them. Failing to present the true complexity of India can also be seen in Adiga’s omitting to explore the lives of the Indian middle class. If Adiga’s presentation of India is to be one that is vivid and full of complexity, the presentation of simply the elite vs. the poor fails to represent a major part of society and so is not able to reach its full potential. This is also an odd choice of presentation as Adiga himself was brought up in a middle-class family in India, something which many Western readers may be blind to. Therefore, not only does the novel’s lack of complexity create a sense of falseness in its presentation of India, the audience’s blindness to Adiga’s lack of experience lead them to believe that he is writing from first- hand experience and so is writing a sound representation of this country when he is, in fact, not.
The organisation of power and class shows a further lack of truth in Adiga’s presentation of India in his key symbol of the “rooster coop”. Balram makes the claim that “only a man who is prepared to see his family destroyed, hunted, beaten… can break out of the coop” implying that India is a country floundering in poverty to the extent that only truly corrupt acts can elevate an individual’s status. Later in the novel we see Balram begin to formulate his means of escaping the ‘rooster coop’, and eventually we see him murder his boss Mr. Ashok and steal his money in order to start a new life. However, it is not merely this act of murder that is corrupt, but also the way in which Adiga justifies it through his main character’s narrative. First Balram justifies his actions because of his
harsh childhood by claiming “you can’t expect a man in a dung heap to smell sweet” and then later justifies his actions by claiming that “once the master of the Honda city becomes corrupted, how can the driver stay innocent?”. Here we see him blame the country and almost everyone within it not only for his act of murder, but also for his consistent harshness of character. In doing this Adiga makes it seem as if murder and hostility are only to be expected of those in India, and in frequently presenting murder as the only means of gaining a decent quality of life, he presents a version of India that merely plays into the exoticism and corruption of the East. Therefore, this presentation
contributes to the Western readership’s stereotypes and alienation of the country as a place of ‘otherness’, and so sacrifices the potential for a more realistic and nuanced presentation in order to please a Western audience.
The aforementioned landlords are also presented in such a way that it seems Adiga is corroborating Western views of India’s ‘otherness’ and exoticism. These four landlords are presented as having the most power within Balram’s childhood village, and animalistic imagery is used to create a sense of the whole nation being a type of zoo as they are given the respective names of The Buffalo, The Stork, The Wild Boar and the Raven. The fact that those with the most power are the ones that inherited it plays into the Western Stereotype of the ‘rough and lazy Indian’, which is a stereotype Adiga develops later in Balram’s narrative with both his later actions and the introduction of the American Pinky Madam. Pinky Madam is a character that consistently expresses disgust at the state of India through her criticisms of Balram- “You’re so filthy! Look at you, look at your teeth… it’s disgusting”- though this is not because she wants to improve it but is rather because it differs from the standards of America. This emphasises the alienation of the Indian people alongside the exoticism of women seen in Balram’s frequent sexualisation of Pinky Madam when making claims such as the fact that it would not be his fault if he crashed the car rather it would be hers as he could “see half her boobs hanging out of her clothes each time [he] had to look I the rear-view mirror”.
This sexualisation of women is again seen when Balram takes Ashok’s money to spend time with a blonde prostitute, only to become aggressive and rough when he discovers her hair is not naturally blonde. Not only does this event highlight the damaging stereotype of Eastern women being exotic, but also plays into the stereotype of Eastern men being lazy, corrupt and rough. This frequent use of stereotypes used to act as motivations for the characters solidifies the idea that there is a lack of truth to Adiga’s presentation of India that a Western audience will be blind to due to the story fitting
their ideas of the country.
Adiga’s very use of narrative voice through the self- contradictory unreliable narrator Balram also contributes toward the idea of the novel containing a lack of verisimilitude. The unreliable nature of Balram’s narrative can be seen most clearly in his decision to justify his actions through beginning his story with accounts of his childhood. In doing this he presents himself as a man representative of ordinary men from the ‘darkness’, which is in direct contrast to his later justification for the murder; that he is an exception to the ordinary men in the ‘darkness’, a ‘white tiger’ among ordinary animals. This focus on individuality is developed in his frequent separation of himself from others from a
similar background such as when he claims that he is capable of recognising beauty while all those around him are not, placing himself on a pedestal that directly contradicts his previous claims that he is a man representative of the entirety of the ‘darkness’ of India. In telling his narrative in this way Adiga also creates the sense that his story is being told by an untruthful cynical observer as opposed to someone actually attempting to draw attention to issues within Indian society. Creating a character so self- centred and unsentimental means Adiga fails to present key problems within the Indian ‘darkness’ such as extreme hunger and thirst. This failure is ultimately down to the critical idea that “Halwai’s voice sounds like a curious mix of an American teen and a middle- aged Indian essayist”. This again relates to the background of Adiga, an author who fails to understand the realities of India and so merely plays into Western stereotypes of Indians being cynical and unsympathetic in their corrupt means of gaining power, while at the same time providing a narrative voice more Americanized in order to gain approval from the Western readership. Therefore, a lack of verisimilitude is seen that matters not to the Western audience as the narrative voice of the main character itself is on based on Western stereotypes concerning India rather than a truth about the country.
Overall, there are many instances in the novel ‘The White Tiger’ in which Adiga presents India in such a way that the Western audience is likely unable to tell that there is a falsity in the picture he creates. In his presentation, Adiga doesn’t present any aspect of India that is obviously false; the education system is corrupted as described and the social system evidently favours the elite. However, the way in which he presents India’s problems is misleading through his frequent use of generalisations and stereotypes that fit the ideals the West have of the country. Hence, he creates a piece of writing that lacks truth in such a way that his readership are unable to immediately realise.