The White Tiger

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The Rooster Coop Symbol Analysis

The Rooster Coop Symbol Icon

The Rooster Coop is Balram’s metaphor for describing the oppression of India’s poor. Roosters in a coop at the market watch one another slaughtered one by one, but are unable or unwilling to rebel and break out of the coop. Similarly, India’s poor people see one another crushed by the wealthy and powerful, defeated by the staggering inequality of Indian society, but are unable to escape the same fate. In fact, he argues that the poor actively stop each other from escaping, either willfully by cutting each other down, or less purposely but just as powerfully, through a culture that makes them expect such abuse and servitude. The Rooster Coop Balram describes is one that’s “guarded from the inside.”

Balram believes that the traditional Indian family unit keeps the Rooster Coop of social inequality alive. If a servant attempts to escape or disobeys his employer, the superior’s family will punish the servant by murdering or brutally torturing his family. In this way, familial loyalty and love become weaknesses in the context of rooster coop logic. In a country where the rules are stacked so overwhelmingly against the poor, Balram comes to believe that to create a better life and “break out of the Rooster Coop,” one must be willing to sacrifice everything, including attachment to traditional morals and to one’s family.

The Rooster Coop Quotes in The White Tiger

The The White Tiger quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Rooster Coop. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Free Press edition of The White Tiger published in 2008.
Chapter 5: The Fifth Night Quotes

“The greatest thing to come out of this country... is the Rooster Coop. The roosters in the coop smell the blood from above. They see the organs of their brothers...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.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Rooster Coop
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

Balram explains why he was blamed for his master’s crime by introducing the image of the Rooster Coop. He uses this metaphor repeatedly throughout the novel to describe the way that lower classes are trapped by those in power.

The Rooster Coop, Balram explains, is not just a normal means of social entrapment. It functions not only by containing its prisoners, but also by inspiring a paralyzing fear in them. Transparency allows still-alive roosters to “smell the blood” and “see the organs”; they are presented with stories and images of other roosters being punished. Therefore, the roosters are left feeling deeply scared and unwilling to resist, for they do not want to be similarly punished.

The way that Balram introduces the Rooster Coop is worth examining. That the Rooster Coop is “the greatest thing to come out of this country” presents the image ironically, as a successful cultural product. This sardonic language emphasizes first its potency—it is the “greatest” because it is effective—and second the way Balram sees his country to be deeply disappointing. The Coop, we should note, stands for the opposite of Balram’s entrepreneurial ideals: It discourages risk and maintains the status quo. It is a creation that prevents other creation.


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“... But where my genuine concern for him ended and where my self-interest began, I could not tell: no servant can ever tell what the motives of his heart are... We are made mysteries to ourselves by the Rooster Coop we are locked in.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker), Mr. Ashok
Related Symbols: The Rooster Coop
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

While caring for Ashok in the wake of Pinky Madam’s departure, Balram finds himself growing fond of his master. But he also questions his own motives for such feelings, noting that the social structure prevents him from correctly ascertaining his feelings.

Balram shows himself, here, to be deeply skeptical of his own emotional responses. He rejects the idea of his “genuine concern,” observing that it may just be “self-interest”: It would behoove him to feel compassionate toward Ashok and to treat him with more care, because Ashok might in turn reward or protect him. This is a textbook examples of the Rooster Coop because instead of rebelling, Balram has actually found himself caring about the very man who helps keep him encaged. Thus Balram indicates that Indian society both subdues revolutionary impulses and forms odd emotional connections between servants and masters.

Although this comment pertains to a specific relationship and specific culture, it also makes a poignant statement on the broader functioning of human emotions. Each society, after all, has some form of a Rooster Coop: a social system that divides people into different strata and creates an incentive system for members of certain strata to behave in specified ways toward others. Balram’s claim that “we are made mysteries to ourselves” in such a setup indicates that human identity itself is shaped and occluded by any such hierarchy—for the individual’s emotions cannot be separated from the desires dictated by the Coop.

“The Rooster Coop was doing its work. Servants have to keep other servants from becoming innovators, experimenters, or entrepreneurs. Yes, that’s the sad truth, Mr. Premier. The coop is guarded from the inside.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker), Wen Jiabao, Vitiligo-Lips
Related Symbols: The Rooster Coop
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

Kusum Granny sends Balram a letter encouraging him to marry. While he is tempted, Balram eventually decides this choice will entrap him: He sees his family as a set of obstacles that are part of the Rooster Coop.

This passage adds an additional facet to the entrapping-mechanism of the Coop: the way roosters in the Coop prevent others from escaping. Previously Balram has described the way other servants from Ashok’s family have sought to halt his goals. Here it is not only unknown servants but also family members that play this role—for Balram repeatedly finds himself torn between pursuing his entrepreneurial exploits and following the wishes of Kusum Granny. Balram thus justifies his rejection of his family and of any affiliation with other servants based on the idea that they will keep him within the Coop.

Though this dynamic might imply that the roosters fight each other in order to escape the cage, Balram’s language explicitly resists that interpretation. His use of the passive voice in the phrases “Rooster Coop was doing”and “is guarded” indicates that these actions are not actively chosen by the roosters but rather stem from the entrapping social system. Indeed, the servants are not battling for a select few spots as “innovators, experiments, or entrepreneurs” but simply preventing anyone from gaining that power. They thus function as a self-encasing guard cohort that has adopted the logic of the cage owners.

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The Rooster Coop Symbol Timeline in The White Tiger

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Rooster Coop appears in The White Tiger. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5: The Fifth Night
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
...feel justified in framing him for the hit-and-run accident, Balram introduces the metaphor of the Rooster Coop . As he sees it, India’s poor are like roosters crowded together in cages, watching... (full context)
Chapter 8: The Seventh Night
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
...he hears stirrings and rumors of revolution, of men trying to break out of the Rooster Coop . He doubts that anything will happen, because the Indian people wait passively for revolution... (full context)