A Horse and Two Goats

by R. K. Narayan

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Can you give examples of humor in the story "A Horse and Two Goats"?  

Examples of humor in "A horse and two goats" include the fact that the wife had gained the upper hand over her husband in physical altercations. In addition, the exchange between Muni and the foreigner, in which neither can understand the other due to a language barrier, is hilarious.

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The majority of this book deals with some fairly heavy going topics such as the ramifications of child marriage and poverty. However, between the doom and gloom, there are some definite laughs to be had. For me, the first smile came when the author revealed that while Muni "had thrashed [his wife] only a few times", she later gained "the upper hand."

The part of the story in which hilarity ensues, however, comes later, when Muni is sitting and resting by a statue near the highway. Suddenly, a vehicle stops right in front of Muni, and a "red-faced foreigner" steps out and starts asking Muni where the nearest gas station is. He then notices the clay horse, which he immediately decides he must own. Given that the foreigner only speaks English, and Muni only speaks Tamil, the two cannot understand one another at all. A complete fail at intercultural communication follows.

Muni is highly suspicious and frightened of the visitor, thinking that he is here to have him arrested and that the business card the foreigner hands him is some sort of arrest warrant. He assumes that the American is questioning him about a murder that recently took place. He is reassuring the American that punishment will be brutal for the murderer if Muni is the one to catch him.

The American, meanwhile, wants to purchase the clay horse statue under which Muni has been sitting and is attempting to make negotiations. While each man is sure he is following the conversation accurately, neither has the slightest clue what the other is talking about. The resulting exchange is incredibly humorous for the reader.

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Humor can also be found in the section of the story that involves Muni's interactions with the American.

The interactions between Muni and the foreigner are humorous because neither is well-versed in the native language of the other. Muni speaks Tamil, while the American speaks English. The only two English words Muni knows are "yes" and "no." Unfortunately, he uses both of them together when asked questions in English. When the American asks whether Muni smokes, Muni answers, "Yes, no." While this is humorous, it's even funnier when the American promptly offers Muni a cigarette, and Muni proceeds to cough his way through a smoke.

After a few moments, the American whips out his card. Being illiterate, Muni suspects that the card represents some sort of warrant for his arrest. Afraid for his safety, he tells himself to take all the cigarettes he's offered. Muni also begins reassuring the American that he knows nothing of a recent murder that has given "rise to much gossip and speculation." Meanwhile, the American is interested in the clay horse statue that Muni has been sitting under. He thinks that the clay horse belongs to Muni, so he tries to negotiate a price with him.

Meanwhile, Muni thinks the American is still fixated on the murder; he reassures the American that he will bury the murderer up to his neck in...

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a coconut pit if he ever finds him. He also states that the local priest can divine the identity of any miscreant by looking into his camphor fire. The exchange is certainly humorous: both men are discussing totally unrelated topics, yet each is convinced he knows what the other is talking about. 

As the conversation continues, the American thinks that Muni is bargaining to get a higher price for the clay horse. However, Muni mistakes the American's commercial interest for mere curiosity about the horse. He begins to tell the American that the horse will trample evil men when all civilization ends on earth. Meanwhile, the American talks about how the horse will add to the ambiance of his home; he means to deposit the clay statue as a showpiece right in the middle of his living room.

After more conversation, the American offers Muni a hundred rupees for the clay horse statue. For his part, Muni is thrilled beyond words: he thinks that the hundred rupees are for his two goats. The story ends with the American carting off the horse statue, while Muni happily returns to his wife with a hundred rupees. The last scene of the story is perhaps the most humorous. The two goats dutifully return home (to Muni's great surprise), and Muni's wife accuses him of thieving his way to a hundred rupees. She then threatens to return to her parents if the police come after Muni.

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Different people find different things funny.  Most of the humor in this story is subtle, coming from the dismal conditions the people face in the tiny village in India.  For example, Muni’s wife tells him he wants more than he can have.

“You have only four teeth in your jaw, but your craving is for big things… After all, next year you may not be alive to ask for anything.”

What is humorous about this is the matter of fact way in which she describes a circumstance that might be very possible, because they are so poor.

Muni’s insignificance is also demonstrated in a humorous manner when his wife sends him out shopping.  The merchant pays no attention to him at first.

The shopman paid no attention to him. Muni kept clearing his throat, coughing and sneezing, until the shopman could not stand it any more and demanded, “What ails you?”

Although it is sad that Muni is given so little respect, it is also funny. The narrator’s description of Muni and his simple lifestyle finds humor in suffering.

There is also humor in the man who comes to the village thinking that everyone should be able to speak English and expecting to find a gas station.  He is the stereotypical stupid American.

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