"The White Tiger" by Aravind Adiga takes place in modern day India. Our protagonist, Balram Halwai aka Munna aka The White Tiger, speaks to us through several letters he is writing to the Prime Minister of China, Wen Jiabao. Balram happened to be listening to the radio, a source that he claims to be comically unreliable, when the lady on the radio announced, "Mr. Jiabao is on a mission: he wants to know the truth about Bangalore." Upon hearing this, Balram's "blood froze, [because according to him], if anyone knows the truth about Bangalore", it's him. In writing these letters, Balram Halwai intends on telling the truth about Bangalore, a truth that only a man in his position from having lived his particular life can possibly tell.
For many years Balram Halwai was without a name. With his mother having died at his young age and his father working to death as a rickshaw puller, there was simply no time to name him. And so he was called Munna, which means quite literally, boy. It wasn’t until Munna’s teacher was required to register the names of his students that Munna received his official name, Balram, and later on, the White Tiger. Balram’s last name, Halwai, literally means sweet maker, and this is appropriate since he comes from a long line of sweet makers – his father being the exception. Balram’s father decided to fight against his fate through Munna; in becoming a rickshaw puller he would have more time to pour into Munna all he would need to become the successful man who would bring wealth to his family his mother had prophesized he would be before she died.
Unlike most of his peers and quite like his father, Munna or Balram dreamed of being more than what his last name said he was and would be. This was also an unlikely occurrence in India since ambitious dreams were simply progressive illusions that almost never came true. The most a dream could ever rationally amount to was “I hope my boss gives me just a little more today so I can have something for myself, instead of sending everything to my family.” Balram dreamed of becoming a driver, wearing the uniform and the whistle around his neck, and having the responsibility of taking people to and from their destination. Such aspirations were usually never achieved by a sweet maker, but with the help of his grandmother Balram was able to pay for driving lessons in exchange for more than half his wages. This was not without its own set of difficulties, because who would be willing to teach a sweet maker how to drive – a task deemed impossible. Such a progression within his class was unheard of. Fortunately, with just the right amount of money, Balram was able to find someone willing to teach him and landed a job working for the wealthiest and most powerful people of his home town.
It was during this era of his life Balram realized the web, the intricate trap, in which both the laborers and their masters played a part in, and how this intricate web would never allow him to be more than a worker - Balram realized he would never be his own master. Having spent so much time with his own masters, he began to learn what a real man who owned his life truly was; he realized he was less of a man, and this worked out well for his family, for his master – everyone else, but him. No man was hired without having been thoroughly checked of his family’s whereabouts. The location of his family and how obedient that family had been over a significant amount of time were necessary factors in assuring that nothing would go wrong for both parties. Balram’s poor family would be his mater’s assurance, their security, that Balram would never dare commit treason of any sort against his masters, because such an act would ensure the death of not only himself, but that of his family as well.
All this is revealed to us within the first two chapters, in which the typical Marxist would be quick to recognize the class division between the working class and those they serve, and how that contributes to many aspects of the worker’s life, through culture, which includes the naming their children. A Marxist would also be able to identify the illusion of progression for Balram and the thousands like him. Because this illusion is passed down from one generation to the next through culture it simultaneously creates the assumption that such cultural institutions are as natural a premise of man as the right to liberty. In India, there is only room for Balram to sink lower, to fail, and very little room for him to be anything other than a sweet maker or a driver. One may argue, as his family had, that Balram was at least able to progress from being a sweet maker to a driver but both of these are working professions, and neither would allow Balram to own his life. While many would accept these facts and realize that one man alone, especially a driver from a long line of sweet makers, cannot change the ways of an entire culture in which both the worker and the master benefit from its system, Balram refuses once again to accept his fate.
Balram Halwai realizes that he must make difficult choices that require certain sacrifices many would not dare make. Upon one of Balram’s usual tasks of driving his master to and from his destination he decides to=2 0slit his throat. This act has a number of consequences: (1) Balram is a wanted murderer, (2) his family is as good as dead, but (3) he is a free man at last. With the millions his master had been carrying in the backseat, Balram escapes, creates a new identity, and establishes a successful driving company.