A horse and two goats

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A horse and two goats

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A horse and two goats

R.K. Narayan



Write 3 questions for each of the following words, in which the word is the answer to your questions.


The statue

The American



Learning Objectives

To understand, analyse and critically review the short story,To express a personal opinion.To write a formal essay in an analytical and academic register.

Do now

Match the vocabulary

terms from the story to the correct definition

Winning pair will get chocolate

cupcakes tomorrow baked by me










) lived from October 10, 1906 to May 13 2001. He was an Indian author, who was famed for his fictional works of literature.


was born in Chennai, an Indian city, formerly known as Madras. He grew up partly with his father, who was a headmaster from whom


gained some knowledge from, and partly with his grandmother as his father was constantly moving jobs. It was from his grandmother, that


learnt arithmetic, mythology, classical Indian music and Sanskrit. When he was slightly older,


and his family moved to Mysore, where his father worked at the Maharajah's Collegiate High School. It was here that


found his passion for reading and writing. Narayan was able to finish high school, however failed his university entrance exam.


A year later, in 1926, he retook this exam, and passed, therefore was granted permission to attend Maharaja College of Mysore. Narayan obtained his Bachelor’s degree four years later and for a short time he worked as a teacher


However, Narayan realised that his true calling was in literature, therefore he started his career with writing a book review on ‘

Development of Maritime Laws of 17th-Century England’,

which was his first published work. Narayan also began writing articles for English newspapers and magazines, which allowed him to earn a sufficient but not prosperous living. However, he was content. His first novel was written in 1930, ‘Swami and Friends’ which was mocked and rejected by many publishers.


Author continued

Narayan continued writing, and in 1933, married


, a girl from his neighbourhood.


novel ‘Swami and Friends’ was finally published in 1935, with the help of his friend Graham Greene, in Oxford.


was widowed in 1939, as his wife died from typhoid. This death bought on


next novel, ‘The English Teacher’, which was a tribute to his late wife.


continued to write and published many books including, ‘A Tiger for


’, ‘Talkative Man’ and his final novel ‘Grandmother’s Tale’, which was published in 1990.


became hospitalised during May 2001, at the age of 94, and passed away in Chennai, that same month.


Plot Summary

English, do you speak English?

Slice of life

Barren couple

I sold the goats!





, ‘A Horse and Two Goats’, is set in


, a tiny village located on the edge of India. The main character and protagonist of the story, Muni, is shown as poor and deprived old man, who previously led a prosperous life, which has gone downhill, leading to him and his wife living in poverty. Muni and his wife are taunted by the villagers as a ‘barren couple’ as they have no children, and are frowned upon, because even though they are childless and must only support themselves, they still live a rundown life. This ‘slice of life’ story shows what begins as a typical day in Muni’s life, and ends very unpredictably. The story begins with Muni begging his wife to make him a breakfast of ‘drumsticks’. She decides to make this breakfast as long as Muni is able to find the other ingredients needed. Muni’s wife does not have these ingredients in the house, nor the money to buy them, therefore she sends her husband off, telling him that a day of fasting ‘will do (you) good’. Disappointed, Muni sets out with his two goats, to ask the local shopkeeper, for the items that his wife needs to cook him the breakfast he is craving. However, Muni is sent away by the shopkeeper, as he already owes the shopkeeper a large debt. Again, Muni is let down, and continues to his usual spot, underneath a large clay statue of a horse and warrior, where he rests, as his goats graze. Unexpectedly, Muni is approached by an American man, who has just pulled over in a station wagon. Muni becomes frightened as the man’s ‘khaki’ coloured clothing, has mislead Muni to believe the foreigner is a soldier or police officer. Muni tries to run away, however his old age restricts him and he is unable to move. The stranger approaches Muni and greets him in Tamil, then continues the conversation in English, as his knowledge of Tamil is very little. Muni replies with ‘Yes, no’. These two words are as far as Muni’s English vocabulary reaches. The foreigner, who in reality is a businessman from New York, pulls out a cigarette, lights it and offers it to Muni. Muni accepts this offer, and the American man then pulls out a business card. Muni becomes startled at this action, as he believes that this is a warrant of some kind, therefore starts blabbering of his innocence and how he has not committed any crime. The American man asks Muni questions about the ‘marvellous’ horse statue, which he believes belongs to Muni. Both men “converse”, though neither understands what the other is saying. This language barrier leads to Muni, reminiscing about his past, the statue and his childhood, while the American explains to Muni how he will be rearranging his furniture back in New York, to accommodate the statue. Finally after this strange conversation, the foreigner places a 100 rupee note into Muni’s hand. Muni believes he has just sold his goats, while the American believes he has just purchased the statue. The American makes his leave with the horse statue towed in his station wagon, while Muni returns home to his wife. When he arrives home and explains to his wife that the money has come from their sold goats, she is infuriated and does not believe him. Muni is left confused, and the story ends with the wife threatening him to go ‘back to her parents’.


Narrative Analysis

Although the story is short there are frequent references to Indian mythology and a strong presence of irony.

Analyse the story in 3 sections:

The Statue and the Village

The transaction

The outcome


: Write a brief summary of events in each section.


: What does each section represent?


statue and village are symbolic of what? Transaction is symbolic? Outcome is


-comic, why?


The Statue and the village

Examine the state of the statue and the village in which it is situated (1


paragraph of the story).

Comment on the way the village and the statue are presented by the writer.

The village, “apex of the world” , on the other hand a “tiny dot on even the most detailed map”.

The statue was magnificent because of its bright colours, its texture is little more than “blobs of mud”, being ravaged by the sun and rain. Where do readers learn that there are many statues like this?

Overall – descriptions present former grandeur, India is no longer what it used to be.


The transaction

The protagonists don’t have the slightest idea of what the other is talking about – mutual mystification.

Use the handout to fill in the speech bubbles

– speculate on what each of the characters could be thinking while the other is speaking.


The outcome

What leads Muni to think that the American wants to buy his goats?

The American strokes them. Muni has looked after them, so they are in fairly good condition and are therefore worth buying.

What makes the American so sure that he has bought the statue?

As Muni was sitting near the statue, the American automatically assumes that it must belong to him. He cannot conceive of an object not belonging to anybody. He gives Muni Money, so believes a transaction must have taken place and he is now in possession of the statue.

How does the narrator make use of comic irony to describe the situation?

Neither of the protagonists knows what the other is talking about: The American does not know that he now owns the goats and not the statue, while Muni does not realize that he now has 120 rupees but still has his goats.


TASKS 1 + 2

Mutual Mystification

– speech bubbles task

Forms of Characterisation

– Re-read the story carefully and take notes on how the two protagonists are characterised.

What they say

What they do

What the author is telling us




had known him in the days of affluence when he lorded over a flock of fleecy sheep, not the miserable gawky goats that he had today


Her temper was undependable in the morning but improved by evening time. She was sure to go out and work – grind corn in the Big House, sweep or scrub somewhere, and earn enough to buy foodstuff and keep a dinner ready for him in the evening.”

“The red faced man wore khaki clothes – evidently a policeman or soldier




Muni, an old(unsure about his age) and desperately poor man, is the protagonist of the story. Once he was prosperous, with a large flock of sheep, but a series of misfortunes have left him with only two scrawny goats. He and his wife have almost no income and no children to help take care of them. He lives a simple life, and likes to pretend that he has a daughter, despite the fact that they are a “barren couple”. Every day, Muni takes the goats out to graze on the scarce grass outside of town, while his wife pulls something together for an evening meal. As he watches the goats from the shade of a large statue, he remembers his younger days when the work was hard but there was enough to eat, when he could not attend school because he was not of the right caste, and when he imagined that he would one day have children. Like many poor and struggling people, he fears authority figures, and so he fears the American who steps out of a strange car wearing khaki clothes. While the man tries to talk with him about the statue, Muni babbles on about a recent murder and the end of the world. He finds solace in the horse statue. It is a place to rest but also where he is comfortable. At the end he seems to have temporarily escaped his money troubles, but his bad luck continues when his wife suspects him of thievery and threatens to leave.



Muni’s wife, who remains unnamed throughout the story has spent some sixty years with him (neither of them is sure about their ages), through prosperity and poverty. Although she is gruff with him now, she is willing to indulge his request for a special meal. She is shown to be temperamental and does all the domestic chores. She has the ‘upper hand’ in the relationship. She works as hard as he does, or harder, getting up at dawn to fix his morning meal, and taking odd jobs at the Big House when their stores are low. But poverty has worn her down: her first reaction when she sees the hundred rupees is to accuse Muni of stealing.



The man comes riding into the story in a yellow station wagon. A businessman who works in New York and commutes from Connecticut, he is dressed in khaki clothing worn by American tourists. He came to India as he experienced a power cut in his office in the Empire State Building and felt the need to experience and visit other civilisations. He typifies the “Ugly American”: he speaks only English, but is surprised and a little annoyed to find that Muni can only speak Tamil, and although he is in the tiniest village in India, he expects to find a


station and English-speaking goatherds. Once he sees the statue, he wants it for his living room without any thought as to what the statue might mean to the people of


. He exemplifies, that even though the language can’t speak, money can and buys the horse for himself without any real thought or consideration. The communication barrier between Muni and the American man causes a misunderstanding when it comes to the horse statue. The American man thinks it belongs to Muni and attempts to buy it while Muni thinks that his misfortune is coming to an end and the scrawny goats are being sold.




Cultural diversity

Wealth & Poverty


Colonialism (Ignorance)


Style and setting






Setting - Kritam





The location itself is irrelevant –it could be anywhere in southern India (Tamil is spoken in south-eastern India): outside a village so tiny that it cannot be found on any atlas, but guarded by the ancient statue of a horse and a warrior. Here, Muni looks after his goats, resting ‘

in the shade of a nearby cactus

’. The detailed description of the statue contrasts with the vagueness of the location: the formerly awe-inspiring statue dominates and guards the scene (

‘massive’, ‘brightly coloured’, ‘prancing’, ‘tail looped up’, ‘bulging eyes’)

and conveys the impression of movement as opposed to the calm and peaceful situation around it. The exotic element which the description contains is further emphasised by the explanations of its religious significance given by the old man, which are totally lost on the American.

However, it is



and ironic description of the setting, his use of language which sets the scene for the reader, hinting at elemental human weaknesses, as is ‘the way of the world’.





has written numerous novels and short stories, many of them set in


, a fictional but typical small Indian town. His characters are invariably ordinary people finding their route through Indian life. Although

A Horse and Two Goats

makes no reference to


itself, it is typical of these stories, as Muni tries to live and ease the burden of his poverty. The story is narrated with the non-judgemental understanding and gentle humour typical of



The narration emphasises the insignificance of the village, and by implication the insignificance of its central character, who is coping with poverty and domestic struggle and seeks to ease his way by deceit and invention. The big deceit of the story, though, happens through misunderstanding and without Muni’s volition,


creating comedy through the two parallel lines of attempted dialogue between Muni and the American tourist. Within the comedy, though,


shows the different values of the two, the American’s dialogue concerned with acquisition and possessions, while Muni is concerned with history and spirituality.


Sequence BreakdownLearning outcome: appreciate and understand the sequencing of events in the narrative, present aspects of the story including setting, symbols, character.

In pairs, complete a detailed, crafted and workable sequence breakdown which will adapt this story into a short film.

Sequence Breakdown = ordered/arranged events within the plot – you will have to think carefully about how to divide the scenes up.

Video notes =


-en-scene (everything in the scene), costume, setting, lighting, acting, props/objects.

Audio notes – Music/Soundtrack, Script, ambience, sound effects,





Wider reading

The Guide

(novel) and



(short stories) by RK



by Raja Rao


Compare with

Games at Twilight

by Anita Desai

Of White Hairs and Cricket






Information about RK


is available at:





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