Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The White Tiger

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The White Tiger

A Novel

by Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga X
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Apr 2008, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2008, 304 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker
Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book

This article relates to The White Tiger

Print Review

The Caste System

Without his violent act, Balram Halwai would have had trouble accessing upward social mobility because of the strict caste system in India. Many Westerners believe, because India is officially a democracy and the Indian constitution of 1949 banned it, that the caste system is a thing of the past, but in many aspects of Indian society, it is alive and well.

There are four castes or varnas:

  • Brahmins, teachers, scholars, and priests
  • Kshatriyas, kings and warriors
  • Vaishyas, traders
  • Shudras, agriculturists, service providers, and select artisan groups.

Below these main castes, and traditionally excluded from larger society, is the group formerly called the Untouchables, now called Dalits (about 160 million/15% of the Indian population). Within each Varna are subgroups call Jati. Balram's last name, Halwai, means sweet maker. He is a member of the sweet maker Jati, within the Shudras caste.

Historically, the castes maintained social and economic order, functioning much like European medieval guilds. The structure was maintained largely through social consent. While the caste system is not explicitly religious, the Hindu religion (about 80% of Indians today are Hindus) has played a significant part in maintaining the structure because Hinduism preaches a cycle of birth and reincarnation. As such, people born into a high cast were presumed to be rewarded for having lived faithfully and dutifully in previous incarnations, while those born into a lower caste could only hope to do better next time.

Today, however, the infusion of democratic principles in the political system of India has put pressure on the caste system. Presumably, fifty years ago, a person like Balram would have never have challenged the caste system like he did when he killed his boss, but modern times, the infusion of democratic ideals and money have contributed to the sense that rising out of one's caste is possible.

Currently, there is much change in India to democratize the caste system, but many aspects of the old ways remain intractable. Inter-caste marriages are becoming more common, for example, but caste remains an important component for many when selecting a spouse. The caste system is still very rigid in the rural areas, the 'Darkness'.

The Indian government has documented castes and subcastes to determine need for education and jobs. This process is called reservation, and it is similar to affirmative action in the U.S. Reservation seems to have merely divided the social system again, this time into backward castes, the groups formally at the bottom who are in need of reservation, and forward castes, those groups formally at the top who are not in need of reservation.

The caste-based reservation policy has led to protests, notably the fiery protest in 2006. Many complain of reverse discrimination towards the forward castes. The modern opinion is that caste-based reservation should be based on economic need rather than caste. Many Dalits, Untouchables, are currently wealthier than many in the forward castes, but they are still eligible for special government assistance due to their social status.

The caste system is believed to have originated when Aryan nomads migrated to India about 1500 BC and, having conquered the local people, pushing many south or north into the mountainous regions, organized society into groups with themselves at the top of the hierarchy. Hinduism dates back even earlier and is unique among world religions in that it does not have a known founder and instead has developed gradually over the past 4000 years.

This "beyond the book article" relates to The White Tiger. It first ran in the May 2, 2008 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Pianist from Syria
    The Pianist from Syria
    by Aeham Ahmad
    Ahmad and his PianoAeham Ahmad became famous as the face of Syrian suffering when a photo of him playing piano in the ...
  • Book Jacket: The Smiling Man
    The Smiling Man
    by Joseph Knox
    Joseph Knox's latest turns on a simple premise: an unidentified and unidentifiable murdered man is ...
  • Book Jacket: The Heavens
    The Heavens
    by Sandra Newman
    I've been a big fan of Sandra Newman's writing ever since reading her 2014 novel The Country of Ice ...
  • Book Jacket: Sugar Run
    Sugar Run
    by Mesha Maren
    Mesha Maren's debut novel is a plunge into the depths of the dark Southern gothic with pulsing and ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    A People's History of Heaven
    by Mathangi Subramanian

    A story of love and friendship, and fighting for the places we love.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Last Year of the War
    by Susan Meissner

    A little-known story of WWII with great resonance for our times.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
Girls Burn Brighter
by Shobha Rao

An extraordinary and heart-rending tale of two girls with all the odds against them.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Book Club Giveaway!
Win The Summer Country

Win up to 12 copies to share with friends or your book club!

A sweeping epic of lost love, lies, jealousy, and rebellion set in colonial Barbados.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

D T T! Full S A!

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.