Saturday, November 28, 2009

The White Tiger, Part III (What Makes a Person Ambitious?)

We've just spent an absolutely wonderful Thanksgiving weekend at The Whitestone Inn.

Among many other things, I'm thankful for great books, and The White Tiger is a great one.

I've decided that a major theme for Aravind Adiga is ambition: the roots of ambition and how it influences our relationships and decisions. In particular, Balram's ambition (which he describes in terms of "entrepreneurship") seems motivated almost entirely in response to the way he's treated by others. In other words, ambition in this story is not primarily an internal drive but a way of reacting to injustice, class oppression, etc.

Balram's tale raises all sorts of questions for me, especially whether ambition is more often motivated by the competitive drive (to outperform others) or more often by internal desires (for instance, materialism). Also:

374. Have the roots of ambition in the US changed over time? Has the pursuit of material wealth become the dominant reason for American striving today, whereas fifty or one hundred years ago the ambition came from something different (more pure)?

375. What is motivating Indians today to be ambitious? Is Balram's class-consciousness as widespread as he thinks? Or is he an outlier?

376. What percentage of people are highly ambitious? In what country are people most ambitious? Least?

377. Do other languages have multiple (more nuanced) words for ambition? For instance, do some languages have a word that focuses on economic (materialistic) ambitions versus one that focuses on position/achievement/etc?

Getting back to The White Tiger: I'm still confused as to the fairly lengthy subplots about Ashok and Balram seeing prostitutes and how they move the story forward. I prefer Adiga's explorations of the phenomenon of bribery. For instance, the descriptions of Balram bribing the Bangalore police in order to build a successful business are brilliant.

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