A Horse and Two Goats

by R. K. Narayan

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A Horse and Two Goats Summary

A Horse and Two Goats” by R. K. Narayan is a short story about a man named Muni and his encounter with a foreigner.

  • Muni is a poor old man who lives in a small village in South India with his wife. He owns two goats, which he takes to graze near the highway each day.
  • One day, a foreigner’s car runs out of gas, and the foreigner ends up negotiating with Muni to buy a clay statue of a horse. Muni, however, believes the man is buying his goats.
  • Muni returns home to show the money to his wife, but when he returns, he finds the foreigner has taken the statue and left the goats behind.

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Last Updated September 20, 2023.

A story of cultural miscommunication, poverty, and wealth, R.K. Narayan's short story "A Horse and Two Goats" was first published in 1960 and again later as part of a collection of stories in 1970. The story explores cultural and linguistic barriers through the encounter of two characters who live vastly different lives.

Set in the fictional rural South Indian village of Kritam, the story provides a glimpse into rural life in post-independence India. This location reflects the author's focus on capturing the essence of rural life in India. It allows Narayan to contrast the simplicity and poverty of village life with the perceived affluence and complexity of the Western world.

Set in the post-independence era of India, "A Horse and Two Goats" lets the reader better understand the socio-economic conditions and cultural dynamics of the time. In the aftermath of independence, which India gained in 1947, rural areas like Kritam struggled with poverty and underdevelopment. The character of Muni, the goat herder, exemplifies the struggles faced by many Indians at the time, as he lives in poverty and isolation, unable to benefit from the larger changes occurring in the country.

Muni has endured many famines that have gradually stripped away his savings and once large livestock herd. He is now one of the poorest men in a poor village and is regularly ridiculed by his neighbors. Muni feels the pain of his poverty intensely and thinks to himself,

I am the poorest fellow in our caste and no wonder that they spurn me.

Muni spends his days tending to his two skinny goats, often bringing them to the road where he can sit on the pedestal of a weathered horse statue. One day, when sitting under the statue, a yellow van stops in front of him, and an American gets out and asks Muni if there is a gas station nearby. The stranger is also fascinated by the horse statue.

Muni, mistaking the khaki-clad man for a policeman or soldier, is frightened and wants to run away. However, his advanced age and duty to his two goats prevent him. Muni is somewhat reassured when the foreigner offers him a cigarette, a luxury he has only enjoyed once before.

Due to their profound language barrier, neither character can comprehend the other. Muni, who speaks only Tamil, finds himself unable to communicate with the English-speaking American, and the American, who speaks no Tamil, remains oblivious to Muni's dire financial situation.

At first, Muni believes that the foreigner is there to investigate a murder that occurred nearby some weeks ago. In Tamil, he tells the stranger he has no information about the matter. The American, not understanding a word of Muni's, responds by praising the old horse statue.

After trying to explain that he is a tourist on vacation, the American offers to buy the statue, believing that Muni owns it. Muni realizes what he is talking about and provides a history of the statue and the Hindu legend that inspired it. The American, not understanding Muni's words, talks about how he wants to put the statue in his living room and tries to negotiate a price.

The American offers Muni one hundred rupees, something Muni has never seen before. Muni believes the American is asking for change and tells him to try in town. When the American shows the goats attention, Muni concludes that he wants to buy the animals. This fortune would be a life's dream come true for Muni, who:

had reared them up with the goal of selling them some day and, with the capital, opening a small shop on this very spot.

As happy as he's ever been, Muni accepts the money and leaves, assuming the man will take his goats. Not long after, the American flags down a passing truck and pays the men to help him load the statue into the van.

When he gets home, Muni gleefully shows his wife the money and tells her the story, at least from his point of view. However, when the goats return to their home, his wife accuses him of stealing and threatens to leave him.

This short story serves as a commentary on the challenges of cross-cultural understanding and the isolation faced by individuals like Muni, who live on the fringes of a rapidly changing world. It uses humor and irony to shed light on the complexities of human interactions, ultimately highlighting the universal struggle for connection and recognition in a diverse and increasingly interconnected world.

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