The White Tiger

by Aravind Adiga

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How does Balram justify his master's murder despite endangering his family in The White Tiger?

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Balram takes a drastic step and kills his master in The White Tiger. This action not only makes him a heinous criminal, but it also endangers his family. Balram justifies his actions to himself to prevent guilt from taking over, as he has caused potentially severe trauma to his family...

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and marked himself as a fugitive.

While contemplating murder, Balram begins to dream of the action. Typically, he believes he would be having dreams of the pantheon of Gods telling him to forego his action, but instead he has dreams where he begins to fear that he won’t be able to go through with it. He interprets this as saying that he would be losing his nerve or failing in his intentions by not committing the murder.

Additionally, Balram craves a deeper emotion and freedom than he typically experiences. Trapped by the constraints of their caste system, Balram wants to be free and have more humanity than he is relegated. So, his solution is to take the major step of murder.

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In spite of the danger it puts his family in, Balram goes through with the murder of his master and he justifies it to himself. There are several ways he goes about justifying this contemptible action to himself in order to prevent the cognitive dissonance and guilt that comes from killing a man and endangering his family.

The first reason for his actions is his fear of failure. He begins to have dreams of being unable to complete the job—of falling short or losing his nerve before killing his master. This fear compels him to go forward, essentially making him believe he had no choice but to murder him.

Beyond that, Balram also states a desire to break free from his caste and feel like a human without restriction. His irrational solution to this situation is to commit murder, which he believes is the only way to truly be free and experience humanity without restrictions.

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Two prominent reason stand out--aside from his obvious ambition and lack of proper moral feeling--when contemplating Balram's motivations and justifications. The first reason by which he justifies his action is what might be called pride in having the nerve to do it. He explains to Jiabao that the nightmares that follow such an action are not those shown in Hindu movies, which start out with images and signs of some of the "36,000,004 gods,” but are of a different sort, at least for Balram. His nightmares, as he explains it, are such that he dreams of having lost his nerve; of having let Ashok get away; of having not fulfilled his ambition to get ahead in Indian life.   

The real nightmare is the other kind. You toss in bed dreaming that you haven't done it--that you lost your nerve and let Mr. Ashok get away--that you're still the servant of another man ....  

This ties in with the second reason by which he justifies what he did. He explains to Jiabao that what he wanted was a simple thing, a natural thing: He says he only wanted to be a man. To his way of thinking, in India, with its strangling caste system, the one way to have a chance was murder.

All I wanted was the chance to be a man--and for that, one murder was enough.

Though he says, "one murder was enough," he is inferring equally by this statement that the inverse is also true: One murder was requisite (i.e., necessary). It is by these reasons that he justifies what he did, regardless of the risk to his family: to have the nerve to act and force his way out of servitude; to take a chance to be a man.

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