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Discrimination In The White Tiger

4610 words (18 pages) Essay in English Literature

11/05/17 English Literature Reference this

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The narrative techniques observed in these two novels are different each with its own unique style. This essay deals with the narrative technique employed by Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird and Aravind Adiga in The White Tiger.

A contrast is brought out between the narration presented by the protagonist Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird and by Balram Halwai in The White Tiger. The lifestyle and situation presented in these two novels differ in their society as well as in their times. Scout Finch presents her story by the backdrop of the American society of the 1930’s and Balram the Indian Society in the new millennium. These differences however bring out the common theme of discrimination observed, but from two different perspectives, with the help of examples from the prevailing conditions. This has been done by looking into the various factors of the narrative technique employed by these narrators.

The style of writing, tone, characterization, backgrounds all vary in these two novels. Each of this is brought out by comparing and contrasting the narrative technique adopted by these two authors. All of this not only differentiates the style adopted to convey the message in each of these books but at the same time brings out the limitations and reliabilities of the two narrators. By doing so, the novels throw light on the age old social hierarchy in two different forms and does so from two unconventional perspectives, thus making them more believable.


Discrimination is the theme in a flawless narrative by a lawyer in Alabama who later served in the legislature, as well as the theme in a powerful book by a young Indian traveler half a century later. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee depicts the theme through the racial biases ‘down south’ in the Americas of the early 1900s while The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga depicts a similar divide through the metaphoric ‘India of the darkness and India of light.’ This essay deals with the foregrounding of the theme of discrimination in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and AravindAdiga’s The White Tiger by a study of the narrative technique employed by the narrators.

The narrator is the person chosen to convey the plot to the reader, and both the books being analyzed here have unconventional narrators whose gripping narration keeps the readers engaged through the book. In Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout Finch is the narrator, with the perspective of a child from the age of five to eight through three summers in a row where she experiences the whole situation presented in the novel. Though the narration happens at a much later age, years after the incidents have unfolded; the innocence and naivety in the narrator have been retained.

The narrator Balram Halwai in The White Tiger is however different. This narration is not as complex as Scout Finch’s and is presented from the first person’s point of view with this entrepreneur as its protagonist. He presents his life through a series of letters with an autobiographical element to it. Both these narrators bring out the common class divide observed by speech and dialogue, setting, age, tone, and plot. By doing so they present the same subject matter from two distinctive perspectives and this has been analyzed here.

There is a complex narration observed in To Kill a Mockingbird from the perspective of a child as well as an adult. The narration is presented by Scout Finch from when she was eight years old. The adult narrator begins the novel by opening the story with the help of an analepsis. The adult narrator recounts the events in the way she experiences them as a child, without adding any commentary to it. She plunges straight into the story, which has been presented from a child’s point of view and as Atticus points out, “They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it – seems like only children weep” [1] thus portraying the emotions she felt at that time. However the adult narrator brings out her understanding with age when she states, “I never figured out how Atticus knew I was listening, and it was not until many years later that I realized he wanted me to hear every word he said” [2] Her comments on her childhood naivety does not make her omniscient but definitely gives her the power of omniscience as she is able to look back on the events that have occurred and comment on the thoughts running in other people’s heads as she has matured considerably over time and has been able to understand many more things.

The adult narrator’s lack of interference gives the reader a chance to embark on the journey which brings out this discrimination with the young Scout. By doing so they view the events in the light in which they occurred without any biases. Along with this they are also given a chance to observe the way the young Scout handled herself through this crisis and matured through it as she switches back to first person narration when she is directly involved in the action as seen in the court case of Tom Robinson. The reader is thus able to connect with the protagonist and experience the journey alongside her. By this, the reader is free to derive their own conclusion of what they read in the book, though she has limited them by providing it all from her point of view. The narrator further supports this narration when the adult Scout drops in subtle hints for the events she wants the readers to see when she says, “We sometimes discussed the events leading to his actions.” [3] 

The narrator Balram Halwai in The White Tiger is however different. Living a rags to riches story the protagonist emerges from the ‘darkness to light’, from the villages in Central India to New Delhi and then to Bangalore. Balram presents this autobiographical narration over seven nights through letters to Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Premier, shortly visiting India. His letters have an autobiographical element to it as it spans his life from his childhood to his present status and the journey from the darkness to light. Balram’s narration brings out the Indian social hierarchy prevalent in society from his point of view, a very different version from what his master Mr. Ashok views it to be. While the latter condemns the country for having too many half baked men, Balram mocks the rich for having studied for decades and then finally taking orders from other men for the rest of their lives when he says, “Entrepreneurs are made from half – baked clay.” [4] 

We see India as it is today from a member of a working class’s perspective and we get an insight into much that we wouldn’t under normal circumstances have given a thought to. Adiga presents a view of the world from the narrator’s perspective for the benefit of the reader, and this brings out the effect of using such an unconventional narrator. His use of the English language in its simplest form by the use of simple sentences reiterates his position in the society and makes him more appealing to the reader. This can be supported by: “In the morning someone came into the room. It was ex – driver number one.” [5] This sentence spoken by Balram towards his colleague throws light onto the education he received for despite his age is he still spoke like a child. His cunning, sardonic tone applied when he states the above, makes him mean and a man of the world who has learned how to survive, creating an ambiguity of his age. There is a contrast between his age and speech here which further brings out his position in society. His ambitions to reach the top of the hierarchy and clear away all the class distinctions put forth to him puts him at the apex of the situations that arise in his life, such as revealing the religious secret of driver one, and the murder of his master, Mr. Ashok. This makes the reader acquainted with the protagonist here and gives one the freedom to judge this character in the way one wants, similar to Scout’s narration. Scout, as a narrator is perceived differently from him, for she is merely a viewer for the reasons of her troubles in society. The childish tone adopted by her brings out the truth in the fear felt by the society when something out of the ordinary happens, for instance with Boo Radley. They accuse him of being a ghost but Scout views him as a friend and fellow human being after he saves her life, when she says, “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” [6] This brings out a maturity in her and an understanding got with experience. By this, she comes across the prejudices faced by the adult society which were unknown to her. This aspect of her narration portrays her as a round character as more than one aspect of her character emerges through this.

The directness with which she voices out her thoughts to Atticus can be compared to the bluntness with which Balram in The White Tiger expresses his opinion on the things around him. This brings out his upbringing in “Darkness” [7] , by the lack of refine to him as a person. His frequent exclamations while expressing his views, however harsh they might be, without any regret suggest this as well. His thirst to prove himself as educated and rich is brought in this tone adopted by him as he tries to prove himself to the Premier by referring to himself as a “one of its most successful (though probably least known) businessman” [8] . His tone brings out the pride he feels on the wrongs he did in his life to reach the top rung of the ladder of success when he says, “…I became, briefly, a person of national importance owing to an act of entrepreneurship…” [9] He is in fact talking about murder in this context without any guilt. He tries to bring out his knowledge to the Premier in a way which suggests that he knows it all by listening to the people around him. This is supported by words such as “apparently” and “I guess”. These suggest an uncertainty and the idea of being made up as they support the ideas of being unsure.

Scout Finch as presented by Lee does not try to prove herself and brings out her natural reactions towards the events which occurred in her childhood. The adult narrator does not try to modify any of her reactions as a child and presents is all in the sequence it occurred. She brings out her confusion and her imagination, thus presenting Balram as a very defensive character. Along with this she also brings out the hostilities faced by Atticus on taking up Tom Robinson’s case. Scout is unable to understand all of this and cites her confusion. The title here plays an important role in foreshadowing the character of the narrator and highlights the theme of discrimination. A mockingbird stands for innocence. This motif of the mockingbird too arises in the novel four times through the course of her narration. One of which is the column written by B. B. Underwood on Tom’s death which goes against this discrimination and brings out the humanity that is present in such a society.

On the other hand, the title The White Tiger, suggests uniqueness and rarity, acting as an epithet to the protagonist Balram. His unconventional narrative is brought out by his colloquial language seen in his exclamations as well as in the various parentheses like “No: don’t misunderstand. I had nothing to do with his death! But I’ll explain later.” [10] His use of this trivial incident of death while writing to a person as important as a Premier of a country sites his background and education. The choice of narrator here makes this discrimination observed more predictable as it’s presented is by a person who has been at the receiving end of it. This could also however be interpreted to be a little farfetched and not completely accurate for the experiences could have been exaggerated by the narrator so as to gain sympathy and prove himself right.

The protagonist through the first person narrator is able to project his thoughts and feelings by his perspective. Scout’s inner confusion comes out in this manner with the help of speech and dialogue in To Kill a Mockingbird, when she has to face the hostility of the society after Atticus takes up Tom Robinson’s case. Her words are confused and she is not always aware of the events occurring around her. This brings out her imagination, her age and thus her character. In such times of uncertainty Scout also exhibits a maturity, when in conversation with Miss Maudy, where she states, “…but Atticus was only a man. It takes a woman to do that kind of work.” [11] Along with this she also brings out her view of the racial discrimination that exists in society when she hears the ladies talking, and she admires Aunt Alexandra for her ability to put on a strong face even in the time of crises. Her view of everyone being equal because the working classes too has families as she has seen with the family retainer Calphurnia , makes her view point different from what an adult might have been at that time simply because her thoughts weren’t biased. Her speech also reveals the problems faced by her because of the biases. Her belief of equality between the white and black make her stand out against the biases of the society. She also presents the other characters from her point of view. They are biased according to what she makes them to be and are presented as part of her life and not explicitly for the readers. This taints them by the opinion she holds of them. This can be supported by her opinion on Walter Cunningham when she states “He ain’t company, Cal, he’s just a Cunnigham – ” [12] All of these characters are characterized indirectly as they are all introduced by the narrator. This provides a limitation for the reader to judge them as they are all presented from the perspective of the narrator and are biased. This makes it unreliable for the reader to judge them.

A similar pattern is observed in The White Tiger as well. The characters have all been tainted by Balram’s point of view. They have been brought out in the sequence of action that occurs in his life and at the junctions where they play a part in making the narrator who he is today. His descriptions of his fellow characters and the events occurring are clear, concise though broken in some parts. The reader’s first impression of Mr. Ashok, his master is, “…a figure on the terrace, a fellow in long loose white clothes, walking around and around, lost deep in thought” [13] .This not only highlights the contrast between the narrator here and in To Kill a Mockingbird, but also reiterates his position in society especially when he says, “the moment I saw his face, I knew: This is the master for me.” [14] This unconventional narrative contributes towards developing the narrator as a character by the turn of events in his life and once again reminds the reader of his upbringing.

The White Tiger’s cunning, ambitious nature is brought into focus with the way he exposes the ‘driver number one’s’ secret to their master and uses another’s downfall to reach his own success. This narrator’s view on the happenings around him combined with his style of getting things done his way defines him as an efficient protagonist who knows what happens around him and what still remains to be achieved. This confidence of his brings out a stark contrast to the narrator in To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout Finch is oblivious to the seriousness of the case taken up by Atticus to defend Tom Robinson, and because of this she is partially unaware of the social disgrace her family is facing and projects this by her childlike style of writing. The hardships faced by Balram in The White Tiger as seen with, “Working in a tea shop. Smashing coals. Wiping tables. Bad news for me…?” [15] infuses in this protagonist the class distinctions and presents the society around him from a very biased view as opposed to the narrative adopted in the other book where her opinion isn’t as biased.

Balram’s narration is Adiga’s novel brings out his blunt, unrepentant and outright nature and the presence of mind and grit exhibited to reach the top of the social hierarchy. This is a startling contrast to Scout in Harper Lee’s novel. Her innocence and pain is contrasted to his ‘ways of the world’ here. He knows how to get his way around and use the people around him to get his way. While Scout finds it a need to protect her father against people’s vile judgments of calling him a nigger lover, he unrepentantly awaits the murder of his family for his crimes. He presents his views on discrimination from the perspective of the higher class now that he’s an entrepreneur himself. He presents discrimination of class based on power here as is seen by his actions, something he had initially gone against. Harper Lee in contrast to this brings out Scout’s lack of understanding and interpretation of the seriousness of the situation by her speech and dialogue which describes her tomboyish and enthusiastic nature and her curiosity towards everything happening around her. She now sees the cruelty of children against their peers as she feels it herself and her tomboyish nature cannot be contained in such matters as is seen with, “My fists were clenched I was ready to make fly. Cecil Jacobs had announced the day before that Scout Finch’s daddy defended niggers.” [16] 

Just as Balram’s background brings out the unusual style of writing in The White Tiger, its Scout’s age which brings out the unconventional narrative observed in To Kill a Mockingbird. It defines the innocence and imagination present in a child without that being tainted by the working of the ‘real world’. It brings out the world as is viewed by the narrator then and thus helps in bringing out the accuracy of events taking place. In contrast to this brings out the ambiguity in the reliability of the narration as it has been presented by a child. There were situations which were too serious for her and were presented more by her imagination than by the reality of it. This emphasizes the point of her being a child who cannot be completely trusted in her report for her interpretation is naïve and can’t be completely relied upon. The narrator’s age is however important here as without considering that the reader might misjudge her character. It brings out her naivety and innocence by the lack of clear understanding in matters of grave seriousness such as the conviction against Tom Robinson.

The truthfulness of a child’s narration keeps the reader in its grasp by the suspense created by it and makes him believe her and empathize with her. Her tone and voice keeps the narration light though the topic matter is serious. Scout’s perspective is distinguished from that of the society’s and helps in bringing out discrimination at two levels. For one Scout is continually told by Aunt Alexandra to wear dresses and not play with the boys; and they are also condemned for supporting the blacks, as seen by her cousin when “At a safe distance he called, ‘He’s nothin’ but a nigger-lover’.” [17] Condemnation goes at two levels and brings out the magnitude of this theme in the book by highlighting its intensity and making it more believable.

This theme of discrimination forms the basis of the plot which is developed by the controlled release of information. The characters are introduced one by one and the themes are introduced in the time of crises. This heightens its effect and makes the reader focus on it. The theme of discrimination is brought out when the whites insult the black. The adult narrator’s description of the other people’s reaction at the court scene brings out the dissatisfaction in the crowd as well as reinforces the prejudice of the jury towards the white, despite the Negro being innocent.

The analepsis is used by Adiga in The White Tiger for a different effect. The plot has been constructed in such a way that the reader is continually reminded of the protagonist’s current position. This helps in concluding each letter and also making a reference to his office, which makes the reader acquainted to the present setting as well as bringing out a contrast between his past and present status. This is reinforced by his pride and constant references to “…the chandelier has a personality of its own. It’s a huge thing, full of diamond – shaped glass pieces, just like the ones they used to show in the films of the 1970s”. [18] in his tiny office. The plot deals with his brilliance in how he handles situations and on analyzing the people around him as he presents a very judgmental view on the other characters and presents them as he sees them a stark contrast to Scout Finch’s narration.


The various aspects of the narrative technique presented by Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird and by Aravind Adiga in The White Tiger have been analyzed through the course of the essay. The different styles on writing adopted by the writers to bring out the theme of discrimination, which has been analyzed here by looking at the tone, characterization, speech and dialogue, plot and setting of the two novels. The common style of using an analepsis has been brought out here, which helps in involving the reader into the plot. This makes the reader appreciate the work more as he is able to connect with it.

One of the common aspects observed in this essay is the presentation of the plot without any external comments. This has left the reader with the choice to judge the characters and interpret the narrator’s intentions in the way he wants. Despite this, there are certain limitations which are provided for the way they make their judgments. This is observed by the narrators’ perspectives on the way they view their fellow characters and the events that occur.

Scout’s childish narration, supported by her confusion and maturity and Balram’s sardonic tone adopted to bring out the world from the point of view of a lower class brings out theme of discrimination from an altogether different perspective. The narrative technique helps in throwing light on the life of the narrator and makes their tales more believable. Yet there are some limitations which crop up. Scout Finch is a child who doesn’t understand all that happens around her. This makes her a little unreliable because of her tendency to let her imagination infuse with the reality of things. Despite this she presents a very unbiased view of the society around her, thus projecting the blacks and whites in the same light. Adiga on the other hand presents Balram Halwai as a person whose defensiveness makes him prove himself every time he claims to have done something. In doing so there are times where he might have exaggerated the course of the events that have occurred to draw sympathy towards himself and presents the society and its people from a very biased view. These two narrators bring out the same theme with different motives.

There are however several limitations which I faced while writing this essay. One being the lack of secondary sources to back up my argument thus making me base my argument completely on the texts in hand and on my personal interpretation of it. Along with this I put together my data from a variety of sources as this topic of analysis here is not a well documented topic as it has been primarily based on class discrimination. There is also a scope of a more exhaustive study as this essay has only dealt with some of the aspects of the narrative technique such as the tone, setting, plot and so forth and much more can be said on these aspects of the narrative technique employed by these two authors.

The representation of the theme of discrimination is similar in many aspects in these two novels. Both these authors have used a very unconventional way of bringing out this these. There is an attempt by the author to present these themes in such a way that the readers are easily able to connect with it and understand the underlying motives and intentions of the narrators. Lee has brought out such a serious topic from the perspective of a child through an analepsis, whereas Adiga presented his novel through the protagonist Balram Halwai by using some aspects of the Bildungsroman technique. By adopting these methods, they have provided one with scope for a very exhaustive analysis not only in the narrative techniques adopted but also on the other features to foreground this theme of racial discrimination.

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