Explain the theme of wealth vs poverty as shown in the short story A Horse and Two Goats by R. K. Narayan.
In R. K. Narayan’s short story ‘A Horse and Two Goats’, the two characters Muni and the foreigner have been presented to convey the theme of poverty and wealth. While Muni is a commoner from a Tamil village in India, the American is affluent enough to have visited India on a tour with his wife.
Having no formal education and no job, Muni’s life is full of poverty and hunger. He barely earns a living by grazing his two goats and shaking down drumsticks from the tree. His only concern in life seems to survive by earning enough for the day, though he has a dream of setting up a small shop someday selling his two goats. Accustomed to this life, Muni has submitted to his fate.
The contrast is exposed when the foreigner comes to the spot where Muni sat under the clay horse statue while his goats were grazing. The red-faced man came with his station wagon, something Muni had never seen in his life. The man tried to introduce himself but Muni’s limited vocabulary of only two English words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ did not permit that. They ended up in a troubled conversation when they never really could communicate with each other. But this conversation was important in revealing their respective socio-economic conditions as well as the cultural difference.
The American offers cigarettes rather casually, as a part of his courtesy, to a man who has always wanted to smoke a cigarette but not managed to afford one in decades. He complains about spending four hours without air-conditioning on a certain day to a man who has never had electricity. The foreigner exults in the thought of manual labour of chopping wood for Muni as he enjoys it as a Sunday hobby while Muni have put in nothing but physical labour in order to survive in this world. The American man enjoys most of the comforts this modern life has to offer while Muni is not even aware of such advancement of human civilisation.
The contrast comes forth more vividly when the man casually offers one hundred rupees for the clay horse and Muni thinks that his dream of selling his goats and setting up a shop is finally going to be fulfilled. While the man has the luxury to spend that amount very easily on a piece of art, this means a new life to Muni who had only seen five and ten rupee notes, that too in other people’s hands. Thus, through the short story the author brings out the difference in relative wealth of the two men to highlight the theme of wealth vs poverty.