Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Part of the fairy-tale element in this story is the result of the author’s use of coincidence. From a Western point of view, the story’s big coincidence—Muni’s opportune meeting with a rich American—may seem a fault: It undercuts the Western sense of probability, of order. However, that is apparently R. K. Narayan’s purpose. From a Hindu point of view, which sees the universe in flux, the coincidence is quite logical. In the Hindu view, anything can happen, though contingencies (or actions of the gods) usually balance out over time: Muni is wiped out by the pestilence but reinstated by the American. Just as Muni sells the American an avatar of a Hindu god, so Narayan slyly introduces the Hindu context into this story, complete with a lesson in theology, a reference to the great Hindu epics, and a wild conversation that mirrors the Hindu universe.

Narayan’s ability to present Hindu culture to the West is aided by one of the smoothest English styles in the world. Narayan has developed his style over a long career, and “A Horse and Two Goats” shows the style at its best—simple, supple, subtle, able to encompass the Hindu worldview and the demands of The New Yorker at the same time. The style entertains without calling attention to itself.