Aravind Adiga uses animal imagery in The White Tiger to illustrate flaws in the social and political conditions of India. The title itself, and later Balram’s taxi company, is the first example we see of animal imagery. He further compares the social system of India to a jungle, zoo, and rooster coop, as well as various other references to animals throughout the novel. Through the use of animal imagery, Adiga is able to show the flaws of the social and political systems in India.
In The White Tiger, Adiga first uses animal imagery in his descriptions of the four landlords who oppressed his village, named The Stork, The Buffalo, The Raven, and The Wild Boar. He also references other characters with animal names, such as The Mongoose and country mouse. By comparing various characters to animals, Adiga begins to draw the connection between how animals live, and the way people in India live. He again makes this connection when describing the day that the British left India, saying “And then, thanks to all those politicians in Delhi, on the fifteenth of August, 1947 the day the British left- the cages had been let open; and the animals had attacked and ripped each other apart and jungle law replaced zoo law. Those that were the most ferocious, the hungriest, had eaten everyone else up, and grown big bellies”.
By saying that the cages had been opened, it seems like the people of India were animals, that had been imprisoned by the British. He describes the ensuing chaos as if the people were animals, ripping each other apart, in order to gain power. The animal imagery further portrays this chaos as ‘jungle law’ compared to the ‘zoo law’ which had previously been in place. While the British controlled India, the people were like animals in a zoo, but were like animals in a jungle now that the British left. This idea is developed further to describe the lower classes in India, or those in the Darkness, showing that they are like animals in a zoo, dependent on those of the upper class for their survival and acting as if they are stuck in cages.
Animal imagery is again used by Aravind Adiga to describe Balram, his fainting in the zoo, and India as a jungle. When a government official visits Balram’s school in his youth, he proclaimed that Balram was a ‘White Tiger’, saying “You, young man, are an intelligent, honest, vivacious fellow in this crowd of thugs and idiots. In any jungle, what is the rarest of animals- the creature that comes along only once in a generation? ‘The White Tiger’ That’s what you are, in this jungle”. The man describes Balram as a white tiger in a jungle, again referring to Indian society as a jungle, and to its people as animals. It is also ironic that this government official appears to support the advancement and individuality of Balram, yet the government would prefer that his class remain in the Darkness and not actually advance in society or leave his caste. Balram later visits the National Zoo in New Delhi with Dharam, where they see many animals including a tiger. He describes the tiger, saying “The creature that gets born only once every generation in the jungle…He was hypnotizing himself by walking like this- that was the only way he could tolerate this cage. Then the thing behind the bamboo bars stopped moving. It turned its face to my face. The tiger’s eyes met my eyes, like my master’s eyes have met mine so often in the mirror of the car”. Adiga first reiterates that a white tiger only comes along once every generation in the jungle that is India. He implies that Indian people of the lower castes must hypnotize themselves into believing that their conditions are acceptable, as the tiger must do in his cage to deal with his situation. Adiga also compares the look that Balram shares with the tiger to the look Balram has shared with Mr. Ashok, as if Balram is the caged tiger in his master’s eyes.
Adiga uses animal imagery to further represent the living conditions of people in India, how Balram starts his own business, and what he calls society, the ‘Rooster Coop’. Balram moves to Bangalore with Dharam, and describes the living conditions of the people there, saying “Let me explain, Your Excellency. See, men and women in Bangalore live like the animals in a forest do. Sleep in the day and then work all night, until two, three, four, five o’clock, depending, because their masters are on the other side of the world, in America” (Adiga 255). Once again, Adiga uses animal imagery to portray the working people of Bangalore. They work all night and sleep all day like animals in a forest, simply because their masters are on different schedules than them, as they are in the United States. As is a common idea in the novel, the lives of the lower class workers are determined by when it is convenient for their masters. Due to this, they are condemned to live as animals, working at all hours of the night. Balram also questions why his father, and other fathers in India continue to raise their children into the horrible caste system, asking “Why had my father never taught me to brush my teeth in milky foam? Why had he raised me to live like an animal? Why do all the poor live amid such filth, such ugliness?”.
By saying he was raised like an animal, he is using this imagery to describe the poverty which he and others grew up in, captivated in this endless system like caged animals. Their very captivity in their respective caste is given name by Balram, calling it the ‘Rooster Coop’. This is the idea that members of Indian society never seek to leave their caste, and accept that this is the social class they will belong to their entire life. In this Rooster Coop, Balram is trapped in his caste, kept in check by others in the Darkness if he ever tries to elevate in society. He explains the Rooster Coop by saying, “On the wooden desk above this coop sits a grinning you butcher, showing off the flesh and organs of a recently chopped-up chicken. The roosters in the coop smell the blood from above. They see the organs of their brothers lying around them. They know they’re next. Yet they do not rebel. They do not try to get out of the coop.
The very same thing is done with human beings in this country”. Adiga intentionally uses this animal imagery to portray the people of Indian society as caged animals who are not even looking for freedom. They know that they are controlled by the upper class, and know that they are treated like animals, yet do nothing about it. By capturing their conditions with animal imagery, Adiga is able to emphasize the impoverished conditions which they live in and accept as their permanent positions. He reiterates this idea, exclaiming to Mr. Jiabao, “A handful of men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 percent to exist in perpetual servitude”. Those in power in India managed to make the rest of the population believe they were stuck in their social positions, and there was no use trying to escape it. Finally, Adiga uses animal imagery in naming Balram’s taxi business, naming it White Tiger Drivers. This represents Balram’s transformation from the Darkness, into the Light, setting himself apart from the rest of the animals, just like a White Tiger does. Balram describes the way he runs his business, saying “Once I was a driver to a master, but now I am a master of drivers. I don’t treat them like servants…I leave the choice up to them. When the work is done I kick them out of the office: no chitchat, no cups of coffee. A White Tiger keeps no friends. It’s too dangerous”. Adiga here uses animal imagery to portray Balram’s successful transformation from an animal in the Rooster Coop, to a successful White Tiger.
In The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga uses animal imagery to portray the social and political flaws of India through the voice of Balram. Through his comparisons to zoos, forests, jungles, and rooster coops, Adiga is able to illustrate the conditions that Indian people live in every day. Balram begins his journey as an animal in the Rooster Coop, but manages to become a successful entrepreneur free of influence from the rich and powerful.