A Horse and Two Goats

by R. K. Narayan

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How do cross-cultural differences create humor in "A Horse and Two Goats"?

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One example of how cross cultural differences bring out humor is seen when Muni meets the khaki- clad outsider for the first time.  From the initial greeting of "Nameste! How do you do?" Muni launches into a fairly detailed diatribe regarding his life: "My name is Muni. These two goats are mine, and no one can gainsay it though our village is full of slanderers these days who will not hesitate to say that what belongs to a man doesn't belong to him."  This difference in cultural and language helps to bring out humor in the initial interactions between both men.  Muni's launch into how the politics of the village maligned his name is about the last thing that the traveller wants to know or cares about.  The initial exchange between both men is obscured by cultural differences.  The lack of connect through language helps to bring out humor.

Cross cultural differences also reveal themselves in the sense of purpose in both men's lives. Purpose has been established for Muni. His purpose is so clearly established that it never dawns on him to question it.  He has lived his life as a goat herder and with his wife in the village for so long that it is embedded within him.  By contrast, the foreigner talks about how he is in India because of being trapped in an elevator "on the fortieth floor of the Empire State Building."  The need to "look at other civilizations" is what motivates him to be at the same place that Muni has called home for so long.  This cross cultural difference illuminates humor because both men are thrown into the same place at the same moment with such a sense of surreal randomness. There is little in way of logic or rationality to determine why their paths cross.  As a result of the cultural condition of both men, reflective humor emerges.

Finally, cross cultural differences reveal humor in the ending of the story.  Muni thinks that he has sold his goats and made a profit.  The traveller thinks that he has purchased the statue at market price, something at which he can marvel back home.   Humor is enhanced by the fact that Muni understands the spiritual significance to the statue, and yet cannot understand the nature of the transaction of which he is a part.  This is furthered in the fact that the traveller likes the statue "in his living room," but fails to understand how it is an avatar of Vishnu that punishes those who have done evil at the end of the world.  In the resolution to this misunderstanding, cultural differences in the form of language prevents either one from understanding the other.  Yet, both get what they want.  Muni gets the money he so coveted. The foreigner gets the statue he coveted.  Neither one understands the other, believing opposite than what is true, and yet finds a sense of contentment.  The lack of cultural understanding helps to provide an ending that is thought- provoking in its humor.  

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