What is a Fable? Definition, Examples of Fables in Literature

Definition of fable: Fables are short pieces of literature with a clear moral.

What is a Fable Story?

Fables are fictional stories, poems or prose, with a specific moral or lesson that is conveyed to the reader.

Fables often include similar features. They communicate a moral lesson to the reader. Often, fables tell a story through the use of animal characters. These animals are not only personified, but they are given anthropomorphic abilities such as the ability to reason.

Fable Example:

  • In the Aesop fable “The Tortoise and the Hare”, the main character, the Tortoise, is able to reason that slow and steady wins the race, and the Hare’s downfall is his excessive self-confidence.

Fable vs. Parable: What’s the Difference?

Both fables and parables are stories written in prose or verse form that teach moral lessons. However, parables tend to teach these lessons through the use of human characters, and the lessons tend to be religious in nature.

Here is an example of a parable:

  • In the Bible, the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable that teaches the lesson that people must be charitable to those less fortunate that us. For the rich man was not charitable to Lazarus and was punished with a sentence to Hell, while Lazarus was allowed into Heaven.

The Function of Fables

The purpose of a fable is to convey moral messages to the readers. By using animals as the voices of reason in these stories, they are particularly appealing to young children who are learning how to behave morally in the world.

Because fables teach morals, they are also helpful in understanding the values of the culture in which they are written.

Examples of Fables in Literature

In the children’s book Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, the main character is a giraffe named Gerald. In Gerald’s jungle, there is a yearly dance that is held for all of the animals.

However, Gerald is self-conscious about his lack of dancing skills compared to the other animals. A grasshopper leads Gerald to the realization that, “We all can dance…when we find music that we love.”

This fable teaches young children to be true to themselves and embrace their individuality rather than feeling ashamed of their differences.

Our second example is from George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm. In this work, the animals are the main characters and are symbolic of leaders during the Russian Revolution. These animals are meant to teach a lesson about the dangers of Russia’s interpretation and practice of Communism.

This novella is categorized as a fable because the main characters are animals that are able to think and reason, and it includes a moral message that is conveyed to the readers.

Summary: What are Fables?

Define fables: Fables are short fictional stories that often include main characters that are animals and convey a moral lesson to the reader.

Final example:

In the classic Aesop fable “The Lion and the Mouse,” a lion spare’s a mouse’s life after the mouse tells him that if he lets him go that the favor will be returned one day. While the lion is amused and dismissive that a mouse could ever safe his life, it turns out to be a lesson learned.

The lion later finds himself caught in a hunter’s net, and his rescuer is the same mouse that nibbles the net to free him. The moral of this fable is that kindness pays off in the long run.