Narrative Ambiguity and the Neoliberal Bildungsroman in Aravind Adiga's the White Tiger

By Nandi, Swaralipi | Journal of Narrative Theory, Summer 2017 | Go to article overview

Narrative Ambiguity and the Neoliberal Bildungsroman in Aravind Adiga's the White Tiger


Nandi, Swaralipi, Journal of Narrative Theory


Almost signed off in the era of late modernity, the genre of the Bildungsroman has resurged to new prominence in the contemporary scene of neoliberalism. Novels like Peter Mountford's A Young Man S Guide to Late Capitalism, Elliot Perlman's Three Dollars, Hamid Mohsin's How to be Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Hwee Hwee Tan's Mammon Inc., Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger, and Vikas Swarup's Q&A all take up the form of the Bildungsroman to narrate the protagonist's growth in a neoliberal world order. Intricately associated with the rise of capitalism in Europe, the Bildungsroman is a narrative of a protagonist's normalization into the bourgeoisie social order. As Franco Moretti points out, the "classical" Bildungsroman coincides with the rise of market capitalism in the nineteenth century and the ensuing social transition from aristocratic to bourgeois domination; it is a genre that demonstrates the individual's integration into a transitioning society shaken by the "new and destabilizing forces of capitalism" (4). Extending the above genre definition, I propose to read the neoliberal Bildungsroman as a narrative of neoliberal subject formation, normalizing the protagonist into the new capitalistic social order. As the form of the Bildungsroman necessarily precludes a total internalization of "social norms" with "a force of conviction and optimistic clarity that will never be equaled again" (Moretti 16), the neoliberal Bildungsroman charts the protagonist's initiation into, fusion with, and active participation in the normative ideology of neoliberalism. A potent example of this nascent genre, Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger, stands apart from other allies like Mohsin's How to be Filthy Rich in Rising Asia and Hwee Hwee Tan's Mammon Inc. due to its narrative ambiguity. Unlike the above mentioned novels set in the neoliberal era that sincerely chart the protagonist's growth, or mock the entire venture, The White Tiger wavers between sincere victim testimony reaching resolution through the protagonist's stellar success and an unreliable narration laden with frivolity and sarcasm often in a manner of self-deprecation. I read this anxiety of the text to both conform and rebel against the idea of neoliberal subjecthood as symptomatic of the protagonist negotiating the demands of global capitalism and sociopolitical identity in the postcolonial nation state. Going against the popular reading of the novel as a criticism of neoliberalism, I read the novel as a complex dialectic between individualism and community, reflected in the anxiety of its narrative voice, which is resolved when the protagonist becomes capitalism's social avatar.

Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger takes up the form of the Bildungsroman to narrate the story of its protagonist in a new, emerging, post-liberalization India. The Indian novel in English has recently moved beyond the shadow of Salman Rushdie and the generation of writers who mused over colonialism, the postcolonial nation state, and the Emergency period. The contemporary Indian novel in English captures the new tremors caused by the overwhelming influx of a global capitalism that is restructuring every aspect of Indian life. According to Rana Dasbupta, the change in trend is "an acknowledgement of the country's growing economic clout and its embrace of global capitalism-a fact that has also caused upheaval in its chaotic cities and social fabric." Asserting that the new Indian novel no longer consists of "family sagas" or "the colorful celebrations of Indian language and sentiment," Dasgupta draws attention to the emergence of the metropolitan novel that focuses on the dynamics of urban existence in a contemporary post-globalization India. Post-millennial Indian novels thus chronicle a metamorphosing India grappling with the forces of neoliberal globalization, formulating new notions of identity and citizenship, remapping the landscapes according to market imperatives, and witnessing a major upheaval in the socio-cultural-economic structure of their nation. …

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