Fables: Definition, Examples & Moral Lessons
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. What are fables?
  2. How to identify fables
  3. Fable examples
  4. Dig into moral lessons
  5. How to analyze fables

Let's dive into the fascinating world of fables—those short, compelling stories that have enchanted audiences for centuries. Fables are magical tales that often teach us valuable lessons about life, and in this blog, we'll be exploring the definition of fable, along with some classic examples and the morals they convey. But first, let's start with the basics: what exactly are fables?

What are fables?

Imagine sitting around a warm fire, listening to a storyteller weave a tale about a clever fox or a slow but steady tortoise. That's a fable for you—an engaging, short story that often features animals as characters and ends with a life lesson or a moral.

The Basics

Fables are a special type of literary genre, and they have a few key features that set them apart:

  • Short and sweet: Fables are usually brief—just enough to convey the story and its moral. They're perfect for a quick bedtime story or a short reading break.
  • Animal characters: Many fables feature animals as the main characters. These animals often exhibit human traits, such as the ability to speak, think, and behave like humans. For instance, in the famous fable "The Fox and the Grapes," the fox is portrayed as a clever, yet somewhat arrogant character—much like a human!
  • Moral lessons: The heart of every fable is its moral, or the life lesson it imparts. This is usually stated explicitly at the end of the story, making it easy for readers to understand the message of the tale.

Origin and Evolution

The tradition of fables has been around for a very long time, with some of the earliest examples dating back to ancient Greece. The Greek storyteller Aesop is often credited with popularizing this genre, but fables have been a part of many cultures around the world—each with its own unique twist.

Over time, fables have evolved and taken on new forms, but their core elements—the engaging stories, the memorable characters, and the meaningful morals—have remained the same. So the next time you read a fable, remember: you're participating in a centuries-old tradition of storytelling and moral instruction.

Importance of Fables

But why do we still tell fables today? What makes them so special?

  1. Teaching tool: Fables are an effective way to teach important values and ethics. Through the actions of the characters, readers—especially children—can learn about honesty, bravery, kindness, and many other virtues.
  2. Entertainment: Fables are fun! The stories are engaging, the characters are interesting, and the morals often come with a surprising twist. They're a great way to entertain while also imparting wisdom.
  3. Cultural heritage: Fables are a part of our cultural heritage. They give us a glimpse into the beliefs, values, and traditions of different cultures and times. By preserving and sharing these stories, we keep this rich heritage alive.

So there you have it—the definition of fable and its significance. But words alone can't do justice to the charm of fables. Let's look at some examples next!

How to identify fables

Now that we've covered the basics of what a fable is, you might be wondering how to identify one when you come across it. There are a few tell-tale signs that can help you distinguish a fable from other types of stories. Let's explore these characteristics.

Animal Characters with Human Traits

One of the most definitive features of a fable is its use of animals as the main characters. But these aren't your usual animals. They talk, they think, and they behave just like humans! This technique, known as anthropomorphism, allows the fable to convey its moral lessons in a lighter, more entertaining way. So if you see a cunning fox or a wise owl in a story, chances are, you're reading a fable.

Story with a Moral

At the heart of every fable is a moral, a lesson that the story is trying to convey. This moral is often explicitly stated at the end of the story, serving as a clear takeaway for the reader. For example, the moral of the fable "The Tortoise and the Hare" is "slow and steady wins the race". This clear, direct presentation of a moral is a clear sign that you're dealing with a fable.

Short and Simple

Fables are short and to the point. They don’t have complex plot twists or a large cast of characters. Instead, they focus on delivering a clear message in a concise way. If you stumble upon a short, simple story with a clear moral, it's likely a fable.

Universal Themes

Fables often deal with universal themes—common experiences or truths that are understood and recognized across different cultures. These themes might include honesty, loyalty, wisdom, or the consequences of greed. If a story touches on these universal themes, it's a good bet it's a fable.

By keeping these features in mind, you'll be able to spot a fable in no time. But reading about fables is one thing—experiencing them is another. Let's dive into some classic examples of fables in the next section.

Fable examples

Nothing beats understanding the definition of fable quite like immersing ourselves in a few classic examples. So, let's take a journey through some of the most well-known fables and their timeless lessons.

"The Boy Who Cried Wolf"

Perhaps one of the most famous fables is "The Boy Who Cried Wolf". In this story, a young shepherd boy amuses himself by tricking the villagers into believing a wolf is attacking his flock. When a wolf actually does show up, nobody believes him because of his previous false alarms. The moral of this fable? "Don't lie. When you're truthful, people will trust you."

"The Ant and the Grasshopper"

"The Ant and the Grasshopper" is another classic fable. This tale tells the story of a hard-working ant preparing for winter and a carefree grasshopper who spends his days playing music instead of gathering food. When winter comes, the grasshopper is left starving, while the ant is well-prepared. The moral lesson here is "Hard work pays off in the end."

"The Lion and the Mouse"

Our final example is "The Lion and the Mouse". In this fable, a mouse unintentionally wakes a sleeping lion, who then spares the mouse's life. Later, the mouse saves the lion from a hunter's net, proving that no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. So, the moral lesson? "Every act of kindness counts."

These fables not only provide a great example of the definition of fable but also demonstrate the enduring power of their moral lessons. But understanding a fable doesn't stop at identifying the moral. Let's delve deeper into the moral lessons in the next section.

Dig into moral lessons

So, we've gone through some classic fables. But what about the moral lessons they impart? Let's dig deeper and unpack those morals a bit more.

"Don't lie. When you're truthful, people will trust you."

This moral, derived from "The Boy Who Cried Wolf", is a universal truth. It teaches us that honesty builds trust, but if you lie repeatedly, people will doubt your words—even when they're true. It's a reminder to always be honest in our dealings, so when we need help or support, people will believe and trust us.

"Hard work pays off in the end."

From "The Ant and the Grasshopper", this moral lesson emphasizes the importance of preparing for the future. It suggests that having fun is fine, but there should be a balance. We need to work diligently and plan ahead to secure a comfortable future. Not everything is about immediate gratification.

"Every act of kindness counts."

The moral from "The Lion and the Mouse" teaches us about the reciprocal nature of kindness and compassion. Even the smallest act of kindness can make a big difference, and it can come back to benefit us when we least expect it. It's a reminder that everyone has something to offer, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem.

These moral lessons are the heart of each fable. They are the nuggets of wisdom that give fables their enduring power. Now that we've dug into the morals, let's figure out how to analyze them in the next section.

How to analyze fables

Okay, so we've got the definition of fable down. We've also looked at some examples and dug into the morals. Now, let's go one step further to analyze fables. Don't worry, it's not as hard as it sounds. Here's a simple step-by-step guide to help you.

Identify the Characters

First off, identify the characters. Characters in fables are typically animals or inanimate objects given human traits. These characters often portray distinct personalities or characteristics, like the hardworking ant or the lazy grasshopper. Recognizing these characters and their traits is the first step to understanding a fable.

Uncover the Plot

Next, examine the plot. The plot in a fable is often straightforward and aimed at delivering the moral lesson. It's usually a simple sequence of events that leads to a clear outcome. Understanding the plot helps you better grasp the moral of the story.

Decipher the Moral

Now, the most important part — deciphering the moral. The moral of a fable is usually stated explicitly at the end, but sometimes it's left for the reader to interpret. Use the characters and the plot to help you figure out the moral lesson. Ask yourself, what lesson is the story trying to teach?

There you have it! That's how to analyze a fable. Remember, the goal is to understand the moral that the fable is trying to convey. So, don't get too caught up in the details. Focus on the big picture, and you'll do just fine.

If you're intrigued by the world of fables and want to explore incorporating them into your creative work, check out Mirelle Ortega's workshop, 'Storytelling In Illustration.' This workshop will teach you how to effectively use visual storytelling techniques to bring fables and their moral lessons to life in your illustrations.