Animal Imagery in The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga depicts a metamorphosis of a poor son of a rickshaw, Balram Halwai, into a wealthy entrepreneur. The novel contains a wide range of metaphors and symbols: the images of animals are one of the most popular literary devices used by the author. Animal images in The White Tiger are aimed to emphasize the traits of Balram’s character and to reveal different sides of his personality.
The central animal image in the novel is a white tiger, by which the book is titled. First of all, it is important to understand what kind of animal it is. A white tiger is a rare, strong, and beautiful predator. It is “an animal that comes once in a generation” (Adiga 13). The color of its skin can be symbolic: it is white and black, whereas the Darkness and Light are depicted as two basic and tangled powers that metaphysically lie in the core of Indian life. The darkness symbolizes the countryside life and poverty, while the Light is an ability to earn money, respect, and wealth. The tiger’s skin is mostly white, which can mean the striving of the main character to get into the Light.
The main character considers the white tiger to be his mascot animal. The first time this image occurs is a dialogue of the main character with an inspector. The inspector says that he is better than others in “this jungle” of the country, as the “rarest of the animals” (Adiga 13). Throughout the suffering and many immoral actions, even the murder, he becomes strong and climbs on the top of the social ladder, which can be compared with the top of the food chain. From a poor boy without a name, the main character finally turns into a wealthy entrepreneur called Ashok, having killed his boss. He kills like a tiger and becomes strong like a tiger.
There is a moment in the novel where the main character goes to the zoo and meets there a white tiger. It is an important sign for him because he fully associates himself with this animal. When he sees a sign next to the tiger’s cage: “Imagine yourself in a cage,” he thinks: “I can do it with no trouble at all” (Adiga 64). When Balram watches the tiger pacing in his cage, he feels that this is the only way the animal could tolerate being imprisoned. The motive of being in a cage is one of the core ones in the novel. There is a citation from Iqban that Balram likes a lot: “the moment you recognize what is beautiful in this world, you stop being a slave” (Adiga 101). To stop being a slave and to get out of the “cage” are the main goals of Balram’s life.
The image of the tiger in the cage is paralleled with the image of roosters in the coop. These birds are a metaphor for poverty and servant mentality. The roosters sit in a cage waiting for death and understand that they are the next to be slaughtered. These birds know that they are going to be next, but they do not even try to get out of the coop, “they do not rebel” (Adiga 63). This is a clear parallel with the people in the novel.
They cannot change anything in their existence, they do not have the will, they are not intelligent. People living in the village where the main character was born are dehumanized. Without having even time to give a name to a boy, they spend all their day feeding a buffalo, doing other domestic chores, and fighting. They do not have the slightest opportunity or desire to change their life, as well as the roosters sitting in a coop.
In contrast to the image of a white tiger that Balram starts to associate with, there is an image that the others associate him with. Another driver calls him a “Country-Mouse.” This is very unpleasant for him, and this symbolizes the humiliation of a servant that makes anything the master says. The driver shows Balram the dark side of the city and intends to make him one of them, not a fair worker but a slave with a rotten soul. He mocks on Balram’s honesty and simplicity, calling him “a loyal servant to the end” (Adiga 43). A Country-Mouse is what Balram kills inside himself to become a White Tiger.
Another animal that a reader meets in the novel is a water buffalo. Buffalo is used in contrast with the people living in the village. This is the center of life in a house, which can be seen in the scenes where a buffalo is called “the most important member of the family,” “a dictator of the house” (Adiga 8). All the hopes of the people in the house “were concentrated in her fatness” (Adiga 8). The image of the buffalo emphasizes the absurdity of the existence of people in the village since the animal is venerated, cared for, and respected much more than the people. It can also symbolize superficial religious rituals to what much attention, money, and time are paid to the disadvantage of life itself.
All in all, the imagery in the White Tiger is rich, emotionally and symbolically charged. It helps to fully submerge into the atmosphere of India and to understand the main character better. The images reveal the key idea of the novel, as the main character walks his life from the mouse to the tiger, killing not only a man but also killing a slave inside himself.
Adiga, Aravind. The White Tiger. Gale Cengage, 2008.