The White Tiger

by Aravind Adiga

Start Free Trial

Why is The White Tiger structured as a letter to Premier Jiabao?

Quick answer:

The White Tiger is structured as a letter to Premier Wen Jiabao because the man in charge of China wants to know the truth about Bangalore, and Balram, who writes the letter, intends to tell it to him.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This structural technique gives author Aravind Adiga a direct, conversational, nearly-confessional medium to expose and critique the iniquities of twenty-first century Indian society. In doing so, Adiga has Balram indict the very same conditions of which he is an unapologetic product, exposing the hypocrisies of India’s prideful status as the world’s largest democracy and global innovation hub on the eve of Wen’s 2010 visit to Bangalore.

In this way, Adiga can establish his central metaphor by presenting Balram-and giving Balram a forum to present himself- as the human incarnation of that majestic once-in-a-generation Indian anomaly, the white tiger. The shrewd, ruthless and relentlessly ambitious Balram was able to claw his way out of the hopeless, desperate “rooster coop” of servant class life to reinvent himself as exactly the kind of enterprising young capitalist that Wen is coming to admire in person in the heart of Southern India’s world-renowned booming technology and services economy. Balram fancies himself an heroic figure and certainly wants Wen to have that impression, yet he is transparent about his own immorality and corruption under the dehumanizing strictures of the Indian society against which he wages a one-man armed revolution.

Balram knows that the modern People's Republic of China's, whose juggernaut economy and massive infrastructure building, was itself born out of popular uprisings against the vestiges of another corrupt and oppressive system, dynastic empire. The Chinese communists waged a revolution and civil war against the reigning system of military dictatorship that was largely a corrupt, repressive puppet of foreign powers like Japan and America. One of Adiga's great ironies is that in Balram's sympathetic appeal to the communist bigwig Wen, Balram intends his example to find favor that will glorify and enrich him. It seems unlikely that the technocratic ideologue Wen, the scion of China's elite class of revolutionary heroes who represents the cream of the modern political hierarchy, would appreciate Balram's story in the way the murderous outlaw Balram intends.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The protagonist of The White Tiger, Balram Halwai, has heard that the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, is on a mission to find out the truth about Bangalore, one of the fastest-growing metropolises in India, a country with a rapidly expanding economy.

So Balram sits down to write the Chinese Premier a letter, letting him know in no uncertain terms just what life in the “new India” is really like. However, Balram's not interested in highlighting the nation's growing economy, nor the increased dynamism of its burgeoning IT sector. Instead, he aims to use the opportunity of writing a letter to lay bear the rampant corruption, squalor, and lack of social mobility that still disfigures life in contemporary India.

It's highly unlikely, of course, that the Chinese Premier will want to hear about the life story of some obscure person he's never heard of and is never likely to meet. And it's fair to say that he wouldn't appreciate the sarcastic tone in which Balram's letter is written.

But that's not really important to Balram. More than anything else, he sees Wen Jiabao's fact-finding mission as a golden opportunity to get something off his chest. One gets the impression that he's been waiting for such an opportunity for a very long time—such is the bitterness and ill-suppressed anger beneath the ironic prose.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The White Tiger is structured as a letter to Chinese Premier Jiabao because Balram, the protagonist of the novel, hears that Jiabao is coming to Bangalore in the coming days. The Premier's motivation is to find out how entrepreneurship has developed in India because China, while advanced in many ways, does not have entrepreneurs. 

Balram's purpose in addressing Premier Jiabao is to expose the cruelty and hard realities behind the superficial pride that India takes in its entrepreneurs. He also wants to show that the business world's appraisal of the strength of Indian entrepreneurship is based on a complete misunderstanding of the way the system really works. While people praise India for its fostering of entrepreneurs, people like Balram show that the system is based on corruption, intimidation, and even death. Balram intends his letter as a warning to Jiabao to avoid India's path. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are two main reasons the story is structured as a letter. One is internal to the story, and one is external to the story. Let me mention first that a story structured as a letter is called an epistolary story or novel. An epistle is a letter. Stories written as letters are epistolary.

The first reason, the internal reason, is best stated by the anti-hero himself:

I have something important to tell you. See, the lady on the radio said, "... he wants to know the truth about Bangalore. [...] Mr. Jiabao wants to meet some Indian entrepreneurs and hear the story of their success from their own lips. [...] I offer to tell you, free of charge, the truth about Bangalore.
By telling you my life's story.

Balram is convinced his story is the epitome of the Indian experience as caste lines are blurred in the new India that focuses on big business and entrepreneurism. Internally, for the plot, the story is written as a letter (1) to cause explanations to a foreigner to be necessary and interesting and (2) to facilitate Balram's confessions and philosophical revelations that accompany them.

The second, the external, reason is that author Aravind Adiga chose the letter (epistolary) structure as a means of discussing and exposing social issues in India and, indeed, in the world, that have come to be in the more than six decades after India's independence (1947). One social issue in India is brought forward in the early pages of Balram's letter. He speaks to Jiabao of small Indian boys who run out into streets to sell American books on entrepreneurism to drivers of cars stopped at lights.

This highlights (1) that caste-free money making opportunities are highly sought by Indians and (2) that small boys are left to be uneducated because reforms to caste have not cut deep enough (these boys don't benefit from entrepreneurism as they are usually under the hire of an operator to whom they hand over the sales receipts from the passé American books).

One global issue brought forth, which appears painfully true and even more painfully disregarded, concerns the outsourcing of American work to India and the unhealthful lifestyles in America and other Western countries. This global issue is highlighted early in the story when Balram describes it for Jiabao:

[The] future of the world lies with the yellow man and the brown man now that our erstwhile white master, the white-skinned man, has wasted himself through buggery, cell phone usage, and drug abuse....

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial