Echoes of British colonialism in India, which achieved its independence in 1947, are present throughout the story. The presence of neocolonialism is keenly felt through the appearance of the “Red-Faced Foreigner,” pointing to the ways in which the U.S., replacing Britain as the dominant world superpower, has made inroads in India economically and culturally through tourism. The similarities between the two types of colonialism—old and new—are not difficult to fathom, as India (at the time of this story’s original publishing in 1960) was being “reinvented” as a tourist destination for wealthy visitors from the U.S. These new visitors see the country not as it is, but in terms of their own limited cultural knowledge and the commodification of its cultural heritage. The story highlights the continuity between colonialism and neocolonialism, as one wealthy Western nation is shown to have replaced another as a world superpower, and the structures of power created during India’s colonial era are shown to have remained in place, functioning to exploit the country’s poor.
The story begins with a deft undermining of the British colonial legacy. The name of Muni’s village is “Kritam,” or “crown,” a name that alludes to the Victorian conception of India as the “jewel in the crown” of the British empire at its height. Yet, Kritam, a tiny village seemingly in the middle of nowhere, asserts its superior status as a “crown” in its own right rather than a jewel in someone else’s crown. Thus, from the beginning of the story, the very name of this village seems to pose a challenge to imperial power (past and present) and urges the reader to consider the value of a place irrespective of global hegemonies based on wealth and power. The story further alludes to the vestiges of colonialism in India when the narrator describes the map on which Kritam appears as a resource “meant more for the revenue official out to collect tax than for the guidance of the motorist.” This statement indicates not only the remote location of the village but also the exploitative profession of the revenue official, who collects tax from impoverished villagers regardless of their ability to pay. Although this profession is now performed by an Indian member of the civil service, this system of taxation was originally implemented by the British. This detail may lead the reader to question the true meaning of independence when colonial ideologies in the form of bureaucratic procedures are still firmly in place even after independence.
The author makes the connections between British colonialism and neocolonialism very apparent when Muni’s first reaction to the American tourist is one of fear. Muni notes that, with his khaki clothes and his business card (which Muni mistakes for an arrest warrant), the foreigner looks like “a policeman or a soldier” from the days of colonialism. Muni’s reaction of fear and apprehension alludes to the lasting negative effects of colonialism on the minds and hearts of India’s citizens, especially those who, like Muni, were alive to experience the negative effects of colonialism firsthand. Additionally, it is significant that, unlike Muni, who is the only character in the narrative with an actual name, the “red-faced foreigner” is, with this unflattering nickname, reduced to a stereotype—based in part on the color of his skin—of the “ugly American.” In this way, the nickname dehumanizes and pigeonholes him into a race- and nationality-based category, much as the British colonists dehumanized their Indian subjects during the days of British dominion over India. It is a comeuppance of sorts that this character does not have a name but just an unflattering nickname; Muni, in contrast, not only has a name but one with rich significance, as the word “Muni” means a “sage or seer” in Sanskrit.
Language in this story is connected to colonialism and neocolonialism. With most of the wealthy and powerful nations of the world speaking English as a first language, English was and still is the global “lingua franca.” The fact that Muni does not know much English is not only a testament to the inaccessibility of education for someone of his caste, but serves as a reminder of the ways in which Muni is unable to ascend the ranks in a global economy that rewards those with a basic level of proficiency in English—and disadvantages those without. The red-faced foreigner expresses dismay that Muni cannot speak English, as he has relied on it exclusively during his travels. The fact that he has relied solely on English with success thus far speaks to the colonial legacy of English in India as well as the language’s continued dominance in the subcontinent as a language of neocolonialism. The foreigner exotifies Muni’s mother tongue, Tamil, seeing it as nothing more than a source of amusement. Revealing his ignorance, the foreigner initially approaches Muni with the greeting “Namaste,” a generic Sanskrit phrase that Tamil-speaking people do not use. That Muni’s command of the English language is limited to the words “yes” and “no” is perhaps symbolic of India’s ambivalent attitude toward the English language itself: as the language of colonialism and neocolonialism, it is a vehicle for exploitation, economic injustice, and hegemonic rule, even as it is a useful tool that enables people to become more prosperous. Here, as elsewhere throughout the story, Narayan subtly conveys the continuity between colonialism and neocolonialism, suggesting that, for those without power or privilege (like Muni), many of the mechanisms of colonial oppression have remained in place even after independence.
Colonialism and Neocolonialism ThemeTracker
Colonialism and Neocolonialism Quotes in A Horse and Two Goats
“Please, please. I will speak slowly…Can’t you understand even a simple word of English? Everyone in this country seems to know English. I have got along with English everywhere in this country, but you don't speak it. Have you any religious or spiritual scruples against English speech?”
“You see, last August, we probably had the hottest summer in history, and I was working in shirt-sleeves in my office on the fortieth floor of the Empire State Building. We had a power failure one day, you know, and there I was stuck for four hours, no elevator, no air conditioning. All the way in the train I kept thinking, and the minute I reached home in Connecticut, I told my wife Ruth, ‘We will visit India this winter, it's time to look at other civilizations.’”
“I don’t want to seem to have stopped here for nothing. I will offer you a good price for this," he said, indicating the horse. He had concluded without the least doubt that Muni owned this mud horse. Perhaps he guessed by the way he sat at its pedestal, like other souvenir-sellers in this country presiding over their wares.