Balram’s rise within Indian Society takes place in the aftermath of India’s liberation from British Rule (which lasted from 1858 to 1947) and the overthrow of India’s traditional caste system. Though the caste system unjustly segregated India’s population and restricted social mobility, locking each member firmly into a single way of life, Balram maintains that its abolition did nothing to improve inequality. Instead, he describes how India went from being an orderly “zoo” where each member of the thousand castes at least had his or her place, to being a jungle where only the law of predator or prey, eat or be eaten, applies. One either fights ruthlessly for self-advancement at the expense of others, or becomes a slave to those more powerful.
This chaotic struggle for power and survival results in two parallel Indias: the Darkness (poor, rural India) and the Light (urban, wealthy, sophisticated India). The extremely wealthy people of Light India oppress the extremely poor people of Dark India to such a degree that those in the Darkness are not even conscious of their own oppression. Over the course of the novel, as Balram becomes increasingly aware of the corrupt forces that maintain this stark inequality, he develops the metaphor of the Rooster Coop: a system in which oppression of the poor is so complete that the oppressed internalize and perpetuate their own subjugation.
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 ideas of good versus bad and even one’s family. In short, individuals must willfully become radically independent and prioritize wealth and power over morals to escape the oppression of a corrupt society. Balram’s escape from poverty and lack of consequences for his crimes result in a belief that the end justifies the means, and frees him from having to examine himself (or his world) more critically.
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption ThemeTracker
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Quotes in The White Tiger
“Stories of rottenness and corruption are always the best stories, aren’t they?”
“See, this country, in its days of greatness, when it was the richest nation on earth, was like a zoo... the day the British left—the cages had been let open; and the animals had attacked and ripped each other apart and jungle law replaced zoo law.”
“To sum up—in the old days there were one thousand castes and destinies in India. These days, there are just two castes: Men with Big Bellies, and Men with Small Bellies. And only two destinies: eat—or get eaten up.”
“We’re driving past Ghandi, after just having given a bribe to a minister. It’s a fucking joke, isn’t it.”
“We were like two separate cities—inside and outside the dark egg. I knew I was in the right city. But my father, if he were alive, would be sitting on that pavement... So I was in some way out of the car too, even while I was driving it.”
“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.”
“... 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.”
“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.”
“The rest of today’s narrative will deal mainly with the sorrowful tale of how I was corrupted from a sweet, innocent village fool into a citified fellow full of debauchery, depravity and wickedness, All these changes happened in me because they happened first in Mr. Ashok.”
“The city knew my secret... Even the road—the smooth, polished road of Delhi that is the finest in all of India—knew my secret.”
“We went from bank to bank, and the weight of the red bag grew. I felt its pressure increase on my lower back—as if I were taking Mr. Ashok and his bag not in a car, but the way my father would take a customer and his bag—in a rickshaw.”
The city has its share of thugs and politicians. It’s just that here, if a man wants to be good, he can be good. In Laxmangarh, he doesn’t even have this choice. This is the difference between this India and that India; the choice.”
“There is no end to things in India, Mr. Jiabao, as Mr. Ashok so correctly used to say. You’ll have to keep paying and paying the fuckers. But I complain about the police the way the rich complain; not the way the poor complain.”
“Yet...even if they throw me in jail...Ill say it was all worthwhile to know, just for a day, just for an hours, just for a minute, what it means not to be a servant. I think I am ready to have children, Mr. Premier.”