Feedback About Us Archives Interviews Book Reviews Short Stories Poems Articles Home

ISSN: 0974-892X


Jan-July, 2014



Value Crisis in Arvind Adiga’s The White Tiger

Mrs. Purnima Gupta

Asst. Prof in English, Govt. Degree College, Samthar, Jhansi

The present scenario of modern India is a bundle of contradictions. It is  a synthesis of both light and darkness; optimism and pessimism; economic and technological advancement and moral degeneration. Under the impact of globalization and western culture India has made a considerable advancement in economic, scientific and technological spheres ,but simultaneously she has seen all pervasive deterioration of moral values which are considered to be the soul of Indian culture. The fruits of economic growth at the cost of values can not be accepted at any cost because value crisis is the seminal cause of all the evils and problems in our society-violence, corruption, rape, murder,blackmarketing and terrorism.That is why the contemporary thinkers and writers are feeling the urgency to retreat to the ancient philosophers who insisted on inculcation of values through proper education .Pradeep Kumar and Nandita Satsangee write, “The crisis of values has earned the attention of thinkers and educationists in all the countries ,for it is related to the very future of humanity.” 1 The modern Indian English writers  are also concerned with this severe problem in their novels such as Anita Desai, Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri and Arvind Adiga etc.
Values are normative standards by which human beings are influenced in their choice among the alternative courses of action. Preeti Chaturvedi writes, “Every aspect of our life has values .In fact, values permeated the whole of human existence. Values are major factors to decide what sort of human beings we are.” 2
Dr Kalplata Pandey writes, “They guide to behaviour without being perspective….value means a preference quality in action.” 3 In other words, values determine humanity and give us ability to take decision in dilemma-clash of duties. Values are of different kinds-patriotic, social, religious, aesthetic, spiritual, cultural, environmental and knowledge. They are inspired by moral virtues such as fraternity, love, sympathy self desertion and devotion. Cultivation of values is the responsibility of not only schools but also the whole society through the process of socialization.
The White Tiger is the most ambitious novel of Arvind Adiga which has bagged the most prestigious award for literature The Man Booker Prize 2008. As a dark novel ,it presents the lacuna of Indian life. It studies how fall in morality and values has corrupted and handicapped the whole of India. Through a nomadic picaro,Balram Halwai ,who travels from the village of Laxmangarh to the limelight of metro cities-Dhanbad, Gurgaon, Delhi and Banglore-Adiga surveys the darkness prevailing both in rural and city areas of India. He penetrates through the exterior reality and reaches the ground reality .Unlike his contemporaries he uses naked reality in place of magic realism. Some of the critics have criticized Adiga for encashing his popularity and winning The Booker Prize at the cost of presenting Indian darkness. They opine that he has catered to the tastes of the western readers who wish to see Indians groping in the darkness of poverty, unemployment and corruption and thereby to gratify their superiority complex. M. Q. Khan writes,  “…Whether it be Salman Rushdie ‘s Midnight’s Children or Adiga’s The White Tiger, the basic quest of their creators is the same; India baiting. Their India is an odd country that has lost its natural master: only that it sometimes comes as a subtext.” 4 I don’t agree with him because the problems raised in the novel really exist in India.
The primary concern of the novelist in The White Tiger is the decline of human values. Perhaps the reason behind using the picaresque form of novel might be the novelist’s intention to endorse depravity, valueless ness and immorality as the current principles and codes of conduct of modern man in Indian society.  The hero Balram is not an individual character but a type who represents all the reckless , rascal and hypocrite men who are blindly following the western culture based on the principles of individualism and Mammonism; who can go to any extent to realize their aspirations; who can sacrifice their morality, innocence and virtues  for the sake of money and success. The story of Balram Halwai is about his degeneration into an animal; about his fall from the height of humanity to the ditch of inhumanity. The gradual changes in his name from Munna to country mouse and at last to white tiger symbolically suggest his transformation from an innocent country guy to an opportunist, hypocritic, individualistic, depraved and valueless but a successful man. Balram’s granny Kusum writes in her letter about him, “The city has corrupted your soul and made you selfish, vainglorious and evil.”5 At the outset, Balram was an innocent boy .He is trained in immorality from the beginning of his life. .He is the direct witness to the corruption in his school, village hospital and landlords. His father dies a premature death because of the neutrality of the govt. doctors.       He wanders here and there in search of a job .He finds that a man has to tell a lie in order to get a job of taxi driver simply because he is a Muslim. He ,too, suffers the pangs of belonging to  low caste ‘halwai’ whenever the Stork  humiliates him by calling him ‘country mouse’. Later on, he becomes a victim of all  those inhumanities of which  a poor and servant class man is entitled. The charge of hit and run case committed by Pinky Madam is easily levied upon him  because  it is the humblest  duty of a servant to save his master at the cost of his life. He sees Mr Ashok Sharma giving bribes to the ministers to settle his income tax accounts .  He observes the all pervasive corruption in police department, democracy, beaurocracy and judicial systems. These bitter experiences of his life  teach him only  to come out of these oppressive systems and somehow to become a successful man so that he may not be victimized by the upper class. The only way out for him was to follow the mantra of success of this modern world. So eschewing all his morality, he murdered his virtuous master and ran away with his money .He breaks the boundation of morality which had enchained him in the Rooster Coop.  Even after becoming a dealer in taxi drivers he practises immorality. He manages his illegal affairs by giving bribes to the police. He commits crimes, but he is scot free because corruption prevails everywhere in Indian life and society.
The novel is stuffed with multiple references where the loss of morality and values has adversely affected Indian life. The novelist shows that  the root cause behind the problems of corruption, failure of govt. welfare plans, exploitation of  the poor class, prostitution , dowry, tax evasion  ,black marketing  is the  decline of values and morality.
The poor villagers are suffering because the land lords are deprived of love and sympathy . Zamindars oppress the poor to enrich themselves. Balram says, “The story of a poor man ‘s life is written on his body, in a sharp pen .” 6 To signify the valuelessness and cruelty in the landlords ,Adiga uses animal imagery for them . The four land lords are sarcastically addressed as Buffalo, Stork, Wild Boar and Raven.
Corruption is the direct outcome of loss of values. Mukesh and Ashok bribe the ministers to evade tax. The Great Socialist says to Mr. Ashok, “You’ve got  a good scam going here-takingf coal for free from the govt. mines. You’ve got it going because I let it happen.”7 Elections are manipulated. Winning elections depends on if you have “bribed enough policemen and bought enough finger prints of their own…”.8 Ministers make many declarations to win the election, but after winning they make money and brush aside the common men. The ministers of the fucked up parliamentary democracy are the imposters.   
The loss of values has made teachers irresponsible  and corrupt in Laxmangarh school. The teacher sleeps by noon, drinks toddy and uses free food supply for himself. The welfare plans of govt. are failures in villages because the teachers and managers eat up the funds. There is auctioning in govt posts. Balram reports about his village, “Now, each time this post falls vacant, The Great Socialist sets all the big doctors know that he’s having an open auction for that post.” 9  Police  masterminds the forced out confessions to protect the rich men from legal proceedings and get huge money in lieu of that. Balram says, “The police are totally rotten. If they see you without a belt ,  you’ll have to bribe them a hundred rupee.” 10   Even the judges  are corrupt They  “are in the racket too. They take their bribe, they ignore the discrepancies in the case. And life goes on.”11 The rich master class men exploit their servants and transfer their crimes on poor servants as Pinky Madam does with Balram. The relationship between master and servant is not harmonious; it is devoid of human values. Humiliation and exploitation on the basis of inferior caste is a stigma on our society and culture; it is totally inhuman. Lack of fraternity and patriotism has caused communal riots and terrorism in our country. The terrorists and Maoists, too, are self-centered and individualistic, so they neglect the welfare of the common men. In short, the keynotes of the novel   are loss of values and its subsequent results. 
The evil God of Mammonism which reigns supreme in the west has now plagued our Indian society and culture. India which is recognized as the centre for spiritual pursuits and advancement for centuries has been gradually transforming into a materialistic and individualistic society for the past a few years.  Western philosophy of individualism insists on self-dependence and absolute freedom, so it is harmful for us. The blind and mad pursuit of western culture and values is posing a great threat to our Indian society. Although the economic growth is satisfactory, yet the fall of spiritual and moral values is disheartening. It is ironical that while the west is approaching to the eastern spirituality, the east is lagging because it is after the left out materialistic approach.
This fast dwindling values has led Adiga to write such a dark novel and present the naked reality of new modern India. Throughout the novel the tone of the novelist remains sarcastic, because he is seriously concerned with the present state of affairs in India. At one place , Adiga says through Balram, “The new generation ,I tell you, is growing up with no morals at all .”12 The logic behind the use of massive animal imagery in the depiction of characters and situations might be Adiga’s intention to represent the brutality, insensitiveness, immorality, inhumanity and corruption in Indian society .Not only landlords but also the hero Balram has been given animal imagery . Balram is presented as the white tiger which is the rarest animal. He is the  rarest man  because such a subaltern who can break the Rooster coop; can speak  and can be independent, comes only once in a generation .The most powerful image is that of Rooster Coop. It signifies those poor and marginalized people who are living a life of  perpetual servitude ; who allow the rich to slaughter and exploit them and ; who have no courage to revolt against their masters. At one place, Arvind Adiga propounds his philosophy in these lines, “Let animals live like animals; let humans live like humans. That’s my whole philosophy in a sentence.” 13 The above sentence clearly indicates Adiga‘s view that values and morality are the jewels of human beings and so they should not give them up, otherwise they would be no different from animals. Adiga does not approve of Balram’s heinous act of murder. Rather, he presents the possibility of a subaltern’s freedom only at the cost of his morality and virtues. He shows that even a subaltern can speak and write his history himself, if only he captures an opportunity and dares to break the Rooster Coop .The upper class is ruling over the lower class as long as the lower class is silent and not using its power.
Through this novel the novelist is presenting the bitter reality of modern India.  The secret of success in modern globalized world is summed   up in the last part of the novel –murder, manipulation, opportunism, bribery, absconding and money-worship. Values are brushed aside. The White tiger plans to open a school where ideals of great men will not be taught and only white tigers deprived of morality will be produced. of younger generation as well as India would be dark .It is the responsibility of the whole society to preserve and cultivate values and morality in the younger generation in absence of which the dream of a truly developed India would not be complete and can not be realized.  The irony of the novelist is clear here because he means the opposite. The novelist as a visionary presents the probable future through Balram. He makes an implicit prediction that if values and morality will not be fostered and cherished, the future

  1. Pradeep Kumar and Nandita Satsangee, “An Analytical Study of Values in Science Text Book At Upper Primary Level”, DEI FOERA ,edited by Prof. Prabha,3 (January,2010) Agra, India, p.107
  2. Preeti Chaturvedi, “Values among Intermediate Students in Relation to Their Academic Achievement”, Emerging Trends in Education, edited by Dr Kalplata Pandey, vol 1 (August ,2010) , Varanasi, India, p.60
  3. Dr Kalplata Pandey, “Measurement of Value Inherent among Teachers”, Emerging trends In Education, edited by Dr Kalplata Pandey, vol. 1 (August ,2010) , Varanasi, India, p. 14
  4. M. Q. Khan, “The White Tiger: A Critique”, Journal of Literature, Culture and Media studies, 2 (July-December,2009), Orrisa
  5. Arvind Adiga, The White Tiger, New Delhi (Harper Collins Publishers India) 2009, p. 262
  6. Ibid. , p. 27
  7. Ibid. , p. 104
  8. Ibid., p. 98
  9. Ibid., p. 49
  10. Ibid., p. 124
  11. Ibid., p. 170
  12. Ibid., p. 316
  13. Ibid., p. 276