Fable: Ethical Lessons Through Enchanting Stories

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What is a fable?
Fable examples in literature

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Literary Terms – English Literature – Study Guide


Fable: Ethical Lessons Through Enchanting Stories

A fable is a short story that usually has animals as characters. These animals act like people. They talk and have human emotions. The story teaches us a moral lesson. This moral is like good advice about how to act or think. Fables are often simple and easy to understand. They show us right and wrong through the actions of the animal characters.

What is the origin of fable in literature?

The origin of fables in literature goes back a very long time, to ancient times. Fables are among the oldest forms of storytelling. They likely began as oral stories people told each other before they were written down.

The most famous early fables come from a man named Aesop. Aesop lived about 2,600 years ago in Ancient Greece. We call his stories “Aesop’s Fables.” These stories have animals that act like people and teach us lessons. For example, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” teaches us not to lie.

But fables didn’t just come from Aesop or Greece. They have been found in cultures all around the world, like in India and Africa. Many cultures have their own fables with lessons important to them. These stories were passed down through generations and are still told today.

So, fables are a very old and important part of storytelling. They help us learn about life and how to be good people through simple and interesting stories.

Fable examples in literature

Here are some important and famous fables in literature, known for their timeless lessons and universal appeal:

  1. “The Conference of the Birds” by Farid ud-Din Attar: This is a Persian poem containing many fables within its narrative. It’s about birds seeking a king and teaches about spiritual journey and self-discovery.
  2. “Panchatantra” by Vishnu Sharma: Originating from India, this ancient collection contains numerous fables, often featuring animals. It was written to teach the principles of good governance, leadership, and ethics.
  3. “Jataka Tales”: These are ancient Indian fables, often involving the Buddha in both human and animal form. They teach moral and ethical lessons, with themes of self-sacrifice, honesty, and compassion.
  4. “The Fables of Jean de La Fontaine”: A French poet, La Fontaine adapted and expanded upon Aesop’s fables, as well as creating his own. His fables, such as “The Crow and the Fox” and “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” are known for their wit and moral complexity.
  5. “Animal Farm” by George Orwell: While technically a novella, this modern work uses the format of a fable to critique totalitarian regimes, particularly Stalinist Russia. Its characters are farm animals who overthrow their human owner.
  6. “The Just So Stories” by Rudyard Kipling: These are fables, often featuring animals, that explain how certain animals gained their distinctive physical characteristics. Examples include “How the Leopard Got His Spots” and “The Elephant’s Child.”
  7. “Br’er Rabbit Stories” by Joel Chandler Harris: Originating from African-American folktales, these stories were popularized by Harris. Br’er Rabbit is a trickster who often outsmarts larger animals.
  8. “The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket” by Yasunari Kawabata: A Japanese fable that reflects on the beauty of youth and the complexities of perception and identity.
  9.  “The Wolf and the Seven Young Goats” by The Brothers Grimm: Although primarily known for their fairy tales, The Brothers Grimm also collected some fables. “The Wolf and the Seven Young Goats” is a cautionary tale about listening to and obeying one’s parents.
  10. Russian – “The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish” by Alexander Pushkin: This is a poetic fable by the renowned Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. It tells the story of an old fisherman who catches a magical fish that can grant wishes, exploring themes of greed and contentment.

These fables, while simple, convey profound truths and have been told and retold across cultures and generations, demonstrating their enduring relevance and appeal.


Fable Study Questions

Here are some fable-related exam questions suitable for an English literature student:

  1. Analyzing Moral Lessons: Choose two fables from different cultures. Compare and contrast the moral lessons they convey. How do these lessons reflect the cultural values and beliefs of their respective societies?
  2. Character Analysis in Fables: Discuss how animal characters in fables often exhibit human traits. Choose a specific fable and analyze how the animal character(s) represent human characteristics and behaviors. What does this suggest about the author’s view of human nature?
  3. Fable Structure and Themes: Fables are known for their simple structure and clear moral messages. Select a fable and analyze its structure (beginning, middle, and end). How does this structure contribute to the effectiveness of the moral lesson?
  4. Historical Context of Fables: Discuss the historical context of Aesop’s fables. How might the social and political environment of Ancient Greece have influenced the themes and lessons in these fables?
  5. Comparative Literature: Compare the use of fables in two different literary works, such as “Animal Farm” by George Orwell and “The Just So Stories” by Rudyard Kipling. How do these authors use the fable format differently to convey their respective themes and messages?
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