The story line / Plot summary
The short story “A Horse and Two Goats” by R. K. Narayan is set in a fictional small Tamil village named Kritam where the protagonist of the story, Muni, lives. The village consists of less than thirty houses, mostly made of bamboo thatch, straw and mud. Only one house called the Big House, the house of the village chief, is made of brick and cement.
Once upon a time, Muni owned a herd of forty sheep and goats. But it is now reduced to just two goats. On the day of the story, Muni takes his usual breakfast of a handful of millet flour and then shakes down drum sticks from the tree in front of his house. When Muni expresses his wish for a drumstick sauce, his wife asks him to bring groceries like dal, spices, oil and potato. He goes to the village shop and makes all efforts to get these things in credit but fails. He comes back home to be humiliated further by his wife and takes the two goats and goes to a place in the outskirts of the village beside the highway to graze his goats.
Muni sits under the clay horse statue where he usually sits to protect himself from the sun and watches the trucks. That day he sees a yellow station wagon approaching. The wagon comes and stops in front of the statue. A red faced American, dressed in Khaki, gets out of the wagon and asks in English about the nearest gas station.
As the American notices the horse statue, he gets fascinated by it and starts a discussion with Muni. He offers Muni cigarettes and carries on with the funny conversation where the two of them do not understand each other – Muni speaking in Tamil and the American in English.
First Muni assumes the American to be a police man or a soldier and tries to defend himself by saying that he is not involved in the crime that has happened in the nearby village. Then as he finds the American to be friendly by his gestures, he carries on telling his story.
Muni ends up telling the stranger how cheetahs or jackals sometimes carry their cattle off. He also tells him that he never went to school, as in those days only Brahmins went to schools. He narrates how the temple priest can see in the camphor flame the face of the thief, and how at the end of the Kali Yuga, the world will be destroyed and the clay horse will come to life and trample down all bad men. Muni also expresses his grudge for the village chief who has gathered a lot of money.
The American also tells his own story of he being a businessman dealing in coffee and how one day he was forced to work for four hours in his office when there was no electricity or elevators. This incident made him curious to “look at other civilizations”. So, he has come to India to see how people live here. He further adds that his wife has stayed back in Srinagar.
Thinking Muni to be the owner of the horse statue, the American offers a one hundred rupee note to buy it. Realising that some financial element has entered the talk, Muni thinks that the man wants to buy his goats. In fact, he has always dreamt of selling his goats at a good price and setting up a small shop with the money someday. Muni is happy that he has sold his goat for one hundred rupees and the American is happy that he has bought the horse statue.
Muni comes back home to show the money to his wife. She does not believe that he has sold the goats for such a hefty price. She accuses Muni of theft. Her belief of Muni stealing the money gets even stronger when the two goats return home just afterwards.
A Horse and Two Goats – Commentary
R. K. Narayan in his short story “A Horse and Two Goats” has addressed many important social issues through the use of humour, instead of seriousness. Using the simplest of settings, Narayan has crafted a sensitive yet amusing story, rich in situational comedy.
The title of the story draws attention. By the title “A Horse and Two Goats”, it seems like the horse was also a pet of Muni just like the two goats. But actually it was a clay horse statue. It didn’t even belong to Muni. But due to the miscommunication, it happened so that the American bought the horse statue from Muni thinking him to be the owner. So, the horse statue served Muni more than his goats. Again, it was the horse statue which the man wanted to buy, but Muni thought that he was selling his goats. So the most amusing part of the story lies there in the confusion between the horse and the goats. So, from both the angles the title serves the purpose well.
The story is narrated in the third person narrative technique where narration and dialogues are well proportioned. The characterization of Muni, his wife and the American has been great. Narayan has spent just about the right amount of words on each of the important characters.2
The greatest themes in the story have been the theme of cultural clash between the East and the West, the theme of poverty and wealth, and finally the theme of knowledge and wisdom. Moreover, it has been a vivid portrayal of rural life in India with hunger and poverty, social classes and caste system, prejudices and superstitions.