A Horse and Two Goats by R.K. Narayan
In A Horse and Two Goats by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of confusion, tradition, culture, identity, arrogance and conflict. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Narayan may be exploring the theme of confusion. Muni is speaking in Tamil while the American is speaking in English. At no stage of the story is there a sense that either man understands the actions or wishes of the other. On the one occasion that the American begins to pet the goats Muni considers that the conversation he has had with the American is about the American buying his goats. It is also noticeable that the American does not really have an interest in the history or tradition that comes with the horse. Rather he appears to wish to purchase the horse as a trophy for his own pleasure. This may be important as Narayan may be highlighting the differences between the culture of Muni and the American. Though the horse is the worse for wear it still symbolises something to Muni. Whereas as mentioned the American views the horse as no more than a trophy he can claim from his travels in India.
What is also interesting about the story is the fact that the American is able to buy the horse for as little as one hundred and twenty rupees. It is as though he knows that Muni is poor and as such he does not need to offer Muni a greater amount. This may be important as Narayan may be highlighting the differences between western and eastern cultures with those from a western culture believing they can purchase anything if the price is right. Regardless of the symbolic significance of the item to others. If anything Narayan may be highlighting the possible conflicts that can occur between cultures. With the American having the upper hand simply because he has the money to purchase the horse (or so he thinks). The reality being that the American without knowing it and through the language barrier that exists between himself and Muni. Is purchasing two goats. Something that some readers might find humorous though at the same time the results of what are happening are detrimental to the small village. Something of cultural significance to them may be being taken away over a misunderstanding.
There is also a possibility that Narayan is exploring the theme of identity. As the American is wearing Khaki shorts Muni assumes that he is a police man making inquiries into a murder that has occurred in the village. This too may be important as it manages to heighten the confusion in the story. Though the tradition of the horse (and warrior) may no longer be adhered to by everybody in the village it still remains part of the village with many people, including Muni, being able to go back to when it was first built. It is as though Narayan may be suggesting that culturally India is far more superior to America and it may be for that reason that the American wants the horse. It is an item that he can brag to his friends about and tell them how cheaply he managed to purchase the horse for. If anything Narayan may be placing a spotlight on the arrogance of the American when it comes to his belief that he can purchase something that may be traditionally important to the village.
It is also interesting that Narayan allows Muni to get the better of the American when he purchases the two goats instead of the horse. The American thinks that Muni is going back into the village to get the help of others so that the American can remove the horse. This may be significant as through all the confusion between Muni and the American it has never dawned on the American that the deal he has struck is in fact for the two goats. Leaving the reader to suggest that Narayan may possibly be humorously drawing attention to the American’s intelligence. The American is on holidays and in all likelihood he has spent the duration of his trip trying to buy sacred items in the other places he has visited. On this occasion he has not succeeded. The horse will remain in the village and the American may never see Muni again. However Muni has prospered from his engagement with the American. He needed twenty rupees to set up a small shop and now has one hundred and twenty rupees. Through all the confusion Muni without knowing it has outwitted the American. Which may be the point that Narayan is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that those who are culturally rich (Muni) will always get the better of those who are not (the American).