What is the main message of the short story "A Horse and Two Goats" by R.K. Narayan?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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R.K. Narayan's story called, "A Horse and Two Goats" is about an Indian man Muni, a Tamil peasant that meets a wealthy American tourist. Through a complete lack of communication (as neither can speak the language of the other), the poor man receives a large sum of money from the American who wrongly believes that the Indian man has sold him an enormous statue of a horse that actually belongs to the town, not to Muni.

Muni, who was once a prosperous man, is now destitute, the butt of jokes by the townspeople, living with his wife and two goats—goats that are so puny, no one will buy them so that Muni and his wife can buy food. The "red-faced" American is extremely wealthy, driving up in a beautiful car with money to spare. Neither man understands the other:

Muni and the Red-faced Man are hopelessly trapped discussing entirely different subjects simultaneously.

As the American tries to communicate with Muni, the poor man believes the American wants to buy his goats. We humorously note Muni's interest in how the American intends to move the goats:

This will be their first ride in a motor car. Carry them off after I get out of sight, otherwise they will never follow you, but only me even if I am traveling on the path to Yama Loka.

(There is foreshadowing in this: they will follow Muni wherever he goes.) However, while the American believes he and Muni understand each other regarding transportation, in truth, they are not both discussing the statue or the goats.

Whereas he has been unable to sell the goats to anyone else, Muni is more than pleased to take the large sum of money the American offers, and turns to go home, leaving (he thinks) the goats with the American. Meanwhile, the American, believing he has bought the very old statue of the horse, waits for Muni to go get men to help remove the statue so that he can ship it home and put it on display in his house. 

When Muni gets home and tells his wife what has happened, she does not believe him...especially when the goats return shortly thereafter, making it seem as if Muni has made up the entire story. This is another entertaining moment: Muni has brought home an unexpectedly large sum of money—but his wife does not appreciate his achievement, finding his story incredible—impossible to believe.

The message at the heart of this tale is found in considering language. Whereas poor communication can divide families or communities, or bring about war between nations, Narayan sees a more positive light in this particular lack of communication—for both parties are quite satisfied with the end result:

Neither character can understand the other; the cultures and languages vary greatly, yet both succeed in their interaction.

Perhaps it is the positive way in which they men speak, and their demeanors, which fill in the gaps where language is not present. They are willing to work together (though unaware that they are working at cross-purposes) to overcome their lack of ability to talk to one another, and both leave satisfied with the outcome. Perhaps the author is pointing out that we often communicate without using words at all. Our attitude, gestures and facial features may lack something "in the translation." However, the spirit of the exchange can be pleasant and positive for people who don't understand our language—or simply don't understand our perspectives, by the way in which we act!

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