A Horse and Two Goats

by R. K. Narayan

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What is the deeper meaning of "A Horse and Two Goats" beyond a communication failure?

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"A Horse and Two Goats" by R. K. Narayan may simply seem like an amusing tale, but it has a far more profound meaning when read in terms of its cultural context. Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami was an Indian writer born when India was still ruled by the British. His father was the headmaster of a school, and Narayan (as he is normally called) was educated in English literature and wrote in English. Many of his stories take place in southern India and reflect upon colonialism and its legacy.

In this story, the misunderstandings between Muni and the American are symbolic of their two cultures. Muni is poor but understands the value of the horse as an important religious symbol, seeing it as the spiritual guardian of the village. The American, who is quite wealthy by Indian standards, sees the horse statue only as a potential material possession, one to be displayed as a way of showing off his wealth and as a form of entertainment at parties.

Although the failure of Muni, who only speaks Tamil, to communicate with the American, who speaks only English, is the source of some humor in the story, it also reflects cultural differences. Even if the two spoke the same language, they might still have been unable to communicate given the differences in their values and world views.

Another issue raised by the story is that of western aid to India and the developing world. Muni is desperately poor. The American gives Muni one hundred rupees, which seems like a trivial amount of money to the American but a small fortune to Muni. Still, at the end of the story, we do not get a sense that Muni's life has been improved. This suggests that largesse without understanding is unproductive.

Finally, the story engages what it means to be cosmopolitan or sophisticated. The story opens with a description of the setting:

Of the seven hundred thousand villages dotting the map of India. . . Kritam was probably the tiniest, indicated on the district survey map by a microscopic dot.

This suggests that Muni is a poor villager with little contact with the outside world. Yet, as the story progresses, we come to see the ironic point that the wealthy, well-traveled American is just as monolingual and ethnocentric as the poor villager.

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