The White Tiger

The White Tiger Summary and Analysis of Chapter 5: The Fifth Night


Balram begins this letter to the Premier by introducing the metaphor of the “Rooster Coop” (147). As he explains, a rooster coop traps hundreds of hens and roosters tightly together in foul-smelling wire-mesh cages. Above them, a butcher slaughters other chickens, so that those still trapped are bathed in the blood and organs of their slaughtered brethren. Even though every rooster knows he will soon meet an equally vicious fate, none of them ever try to escape.

Balram considers the rooster coop an adequate symbol for the situation of India's underclass. Even though servants have frequent opportunities to cheat their masters or escape their situations, they remain subservient rather than taking these opportunities. As example, he notes how often deliverymen protect their masters' large quantities of cash rather than stealing the money.

The "Rooster Coop," then, is a servant mindset which Balram believes enslaves the underclass. He explains how the Indian family ties people to the coop, since they know that any disloyalty could harm their families. As a result, Balram reasons, a few men in power have condemned 99.9% of the Indian population, who are otherwise equally qualified, to a state of eternal servitude. Only someone willing to see his family tortured and murdered would be able to break out of the Rooster Coop; Balram says that it would take a “freak, a pervert,” a “White Tiger” such as himself, to take such a risk (150).

Balram then returns to his story, describing his terror in the wake of the forced confession. After signing the paper, he hid alone in his room, and was not summoned at all. He spent an entire day worrying about jail, until Vitiligo-Lips appeared to tell him that the bell was ringing for him.

Full of dread, Balram went upstairs to find the Stork waiting to speak with him. Though Balram hoped that the Stork might have found a way to spare him jail time, the older man simply asked him to massage his feet as he often did in Dhanbad. Though Balram fulfilled the request, he first urinated in the tub while filling it with the warm water, a small act of retribution.

During the massage, Mr. Ashok was in the room, but mostly ignored Balram until a disheveled and distraught Pinky Madam entered to ask if they had told Balram the news. Acknowledging that "we should tell him," Mr. Ashok then explained that they had exploited a connection with the police to avoid reporting the incident (151). As a result, Balram's confession was no longer necessary.

Overcome with relief, Balram accidentally overturned the tub of water, earning him a smack from the Stork. Moved by the scene, Pinky Madam surprised Balram by exhibiting her shame over the incident. The Stork then revealed that Pinky Madam had wanted to located the child's family, to compensate them for their loss. Her request had been denied.

The Stork remained in Delhi for several more days, and Balram massaged his feet each morning. One day, the Stork suffered a slight stomachache, and so the Mongoose had Balram drive him to a luxurious private hospital in a gleaming building, an obvious contrast to the abysmal hospital where Balram's father died.

The next day, he drove the Stork and the Mongoose to the rail station, and they left Delhi. Later that night, Pinky Madam appeared in Balram’s room and asked him to drive her to the airport, no questions asked. At the airport, she gave Balram an envelope containing 4700 rupees. It was then clear that she was returning to America, thereby ending her marriage to Ashok.

The next morning, after determining what had happened, Ashok was furious with Balram, and pinned him against the apartment balcony rail, threatening to push him over. In self-defense, Balram kicked Ashok in the chest, and then protested that he did not realize what Pinky Madam intended. Mr. Ashok broke down into tears, and Balram rushed back to his room in the servant’s quarters. Down there, Vitiligo-Lips fished for gossip about the divorce, but Balram insisted that Pinky Madam was coming back, wanting to protect the family’s reputation.

With Pinky Madam gone, Balram felt responsible for Mr. Ashok, and vowed to take care of his health as though he were the man's wife. One evening, he entered the apartment to find Ashok passed out, having drank nearly an entire bottle of whiskey. Balram carried Ashok to his bed. The same routine continued for two days until Mr. Ashok one night asked Balram to drive him somewhere — anywhere — in Delhi.

In the car, Ashok questioned the point of living, and admitted that he should have followed his father's advice and married within his own caste and religion. Balram, pitying Ashok for his weakness and pathetic state, comforted the man by sharing some village wisdom. He admits that he was uncertain of his true feelings towards Mr. Ashok - though he felt tenderness and respect, he was also confused by the hatred engendered by the Rooster Coop.

After a week, the Mongoose arrived in Delhi, shattering the newfound intimacy that was growing between Ashok and Balram. In the car on the way home, Balram eavesdropped to learn that Pinky Madam had no intention of returning. As they drove past a slum, they saw a family huddled together under a tent, and Mr. Ashok expressed his newfound appreciation for the value of family.

Later, during dinner, the Mongoose told Balram that Kusum had sent him a letter. The Mongoose then read it aloud despite Mr. Ashok's insistence that Balram deserved his privacy. The letter begged Balram to send more money home, and asked him to consider marrying. She argued it was selfish to refuse marriage.

Later, Balram found Mr. Ashok massaging his own feet in the apartment. Considering it madness that a master would service himself in this way, Balram cried out and tried to force his hands into the water to take over. However, Mr. Ashok angrily refused his help and insulted him before asking to left alone.

That evening, Balram drove Mr. Ashok to the mall, while lost in thought about the letter from Kusum. He knew that the letter was sent to the Mongoose as a veiled threat - if he did not obey, she would reveal that he had been failing to send money home. He also considered the benefits of marriage, which include sexual satisfaction and the dowry from the girl’s family. However, he had no interest in having children who would then be raised into the Rooster Coop.

While waiting for Mr. Ashok, Balram sat in the lotus position in the car, meditating. After a while, the other drivers noticed him, and mocked him through the windows. Balram identifies such mockery as part of the Rooster Coop mechanism — servants keep other servants in line, punishing any behavior considered innovative or out of the ordinary. The coop is thus “guarded from the inside” (166).

Balram abruptly ends the letter, telling the Premier that an emergency has taken place.


The image of the Rooster Coop is one of the novel's central metaphors, as well as the most pointed animal imagery that Balram uses to make sense of his world. In giving his description of the Rooster Coop, Balram clearly expresses his world view. The metaphor explains the divisive class elements he recognizes in society, as well as his view of himself as exceptional. In many ways, this depiction of the Rooster Coop allows him to justify the murder he eventually commits, but the way in which it also conforms to the depravity of India's underclass also makes it resonate in a more objective way as well.

The metaphor of the White Tiger is also further developed in this section. In this chapter, Balram mentions that above the cage of the White Tiger in Delhi's National Zoo, a sign reads: “Imagine yourself in this cage” (150). Balram has no trouble doing that — both because he considers himself to be trapped in the metaphorical rooster coop, and because he considers himself to be a White Tiger, a unique and exceptional creature. He is both trapped and yet poised to escape. The contradiction implicit in this understanding ultimately propels the novel to its climax, the murder of Mr. Ashok. He cannot prove his exceptionalism without breaking free. He has to be willing to repudiate the expectations of those around him - as he does when he meditates - if he is to truly break free. The Rooster Coop will never be bested by chickens - it will take a White Tiger.

In this chapter, Balram more openly addresses the ambiguous nature of his relationship with Mr. Ashok than he has previously. Here, he explicitly admits his uncertainty over how to feel about the man. He often expresses anger and resentment about Mr. Ashok, even admitting violent instincts. At other times, his deep respect for Ashok is palpable. Balram demonstrates a deep-seeded desire to serve with utmost loyalty, as evidenced by his instinctive response when he finds Mr. Ashok massaging his own feet. Further, he even thinks of himself as a wife to Ashok after Pinky leaves, further developing the homoerotic overtones of the relationship. Balram attributes this uncertainty to the mental effects of being trapped in the Rooster Coop, which causes those trapped inside to be “made mysteries to ourselves” (160).

Ashok is similarly inconsistent in his attitude towards Balram, sometimes expressing his trust for his driver, while at other times abusing him alongside others. Perhaps most grievously, Mr. Ashok does not interfere with the plan to send Balram to prison, and even holds off telling him the news. This is a sign of the weakness that Balram noticed in the previous chapter, and which helps him justify his ultimate murder. As a result of these inconsistencies, the relationship between Ashok and Balram is constantly in flux. This volatility erupts in the first overt instance of physical violence between the two, when Balram kicks Ashok in the chest in self-defense, foreshadowing the ultimate violent act which will end Ashok’s life.

Once the seemingly simple complement to her husband, Pinky Madam’s character becomes considerably more complex in the wake of the hit-and-run. Prior to the developments in this section of the novel, Pinky Madam mostly served as a straightforward antagonist to Balram. She was snobbish, promiscuously dressed, constantly dissatisfied, annoying and capricious, even if she was also fascinating and attractive. In the wake of her reprehensible actions in the hit-and-run, however, Pinky demonstrates a surprising level of shame, unmatched by anyone else in the Stork’s family, including Ashok. She demonstrates an unprecedented resolve in choosing to leave Ashok, and her decision to leave money for Balram demonstrates that she is not as single-mindedly contemptuous of him as previously indicated. That Balram notes her complexity ultimately shows his observant nature, but her deepening character is hardly enough reason for his ever-increasing resentment towards the upper class to subside.