This comic masterpiece, which first appeared in The New Yorker, has the dimensions of an updated fairy tale: A childless old couple find their cupboard empty, but the old man goes out and meets a stranger who buys his last two goats for a small fortune. The tale is updated in that the poverty shown, with each day a new search for food, is only too real. Also real are the related conditions of village life in South India—the close-knit community with its malicious gossip and concern for status, the credit system exemplified by the village store, the bickering of husband and wife, the occasional violence and rough justice, the pervasive influence of religion.
However, the story’s main updating is the clash of this village culture with American culture, represented by the American tourist. The stereotyped American tourist with his monoglot outlook and moneybags is perhaps less real than the story’s other characters, but he is individualized somewhat by his New York background: Here the typical suburbanite of The New Yorker goes east. As usual, he is an object of gentle satire. He moves about on the floating world with ease thanks to his financial means, but otherwise he is a total nincompoop. He reduces existence to getting and spending, buying an avatar of the just god to install in his living room. His cocktail guests had better stay on their best behavior.
However, even the American tourist is not entirely oblivious to...
(The entire section is 415 words.)