Understanding the Meaning of Parable: A Comprehensive Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. What is a parable?
  2. Why do we use parables?
  3. How to interpret parables
  4. Examples of parables from different cultures
  5. Parable vs. Fable vs. Myth
  6. How to write your own parable

Embarking on a journey of understanding parables can be akin to unwrapping a beautifully packaged gift. You're not sure what you'll find inside, but the anticipation of discovering something valuable and meaningful is exciting. In this guide, we're going to explore the definition of a parable, why we use them, and how to interpret them. We'll also look at some examples from different cultures, and even learn how to write your own. So, let's get started, shall we?

What is a parable?

A parable is a simple, succinct story that illustrates a moral or spiritual lesson. This definition of a parable might seem straightforward, yet there's a lot more to it. Let's break it down:

It's a story

First and foremost, a parable is a story. And just like any good story, it has characters, setting, and plot. But remember, it's a simple story — you won't find complex plot twists or subplots here. The simplicity is part of its charm and effectiveness. It's easy to remember and retell, making it a powerful tool to convey important life lessons.

It illustrates a lesson

Secondly, a parable isn't just a story for entertainment. It serves a purpose — to teach us something. This 'something' is often a moral or spiritual lesson. In other words, it educates us about how we should live or behave. This educational aspect is a key part of the definition of a parable.

It's not always what it seems

Here's where parables get really interesting. They're often metaphorical, meaning they use one thing to represent something else. For example, a parable might tell a story about a farmer and his crops, but it's really teaching you about patience or hard work. The beauty of parables lies in their layers of meaning and interpretation — they invite you to think, ponder, and discover their deeper lessons.

Now that we've covered the basic definition of a parable, get ready to delve deeper into understanding why we use parables and how to interpret them. And remember, just like a well-wrapped gift, the joy is as much in the journey of discovery as it is in the revelation of the gift itself.

Why do we use parables?

As we delve deeper into understanding the definition of a parable, it's natural to wonder why we use them. After all, there must be a reason why parables have been part of human culture for thousands of years, right? Let's explore this.

Parables make complex ideas simple

Life is full of complex ideas and concepts. Sometimes, these can be hard to understand, especially for young minds or those new to a particular field of knowledge. Parables are a great way to simplify these complex ideas and make them more understandable. It's like turning a big, heavy textbook into a light, easy-to-read comic book. Who wouldn't prefer that?

They make lessons memorable

When was the last time you forgot the plot of a really good story? Hard to remember, right? That's because stories are inherently memorable. They engage our emotions, stimulate our imagination, and stick in our minds long after we've heard them. Parables leverage this power of storytelling to make moral and spiritual lessons more memorable.

Parables inspire action

Lastly, parables are not just about imparting knowledge — they're about inspiring action. You see, knowing the right thing to do isn't enough. You have to be motivated to actually do it. Parables, with their engaging narratives and relatable characters, can inspire us to turn knowledge into action. This is perhaps the most powerful aspect of the definition of a parable.

Now, you might think you've got parables all figured out. But wait, there's more! Next, we'll learn how to interpret parables, which is where the real fun begins. So, buckle up and get ready for an exciting journey into the world of parables.

How to interpret parables

Now that we have a solid understanding of why we use parables, let's move forward and learn how to interpret them. The beauty of parables lies in their hidden meanings — like a treasure chest waiting to be unlocked. But how do you find the right key? Let's find out.

Understand the Context

The first step to interpret a parable is to understand the context in which it was told. Just like you wouldn't dive into a movie halfway through, you shouldn't jump into a parable without knowing its background. Who are the characters? What's the setting? Why was this story told? These details can clue you into the parable's hidden meaning.

Identify the Central Message

Once you have the context, try to identify the central message of the parable. This is like the golden thread that runs through the story, holding everything together. It's the main point that the storyteller is trying to get across. So, pay close attention to the actions and words of the characters, as they often reveal this central message.

Apply the Lessons Learned

Finally, once you've understood the context and identified the central message, it's time to apply the lessons learned. Remember, the ultimate goal of a parable isn't just to entertain or enlighten you — it's to inspire you to change your behavior, your thinking, or even your life. So, don't just stop at understanding the parable — take it a step further and apply its lessons to your life.

Interpreting parables can be a fun and rewarding process. It's like solving a puzzle, where each piece you put in place brings you closer to the full picture. And who knows? The next parable you read might just hold the answer to a question you've been pondering. So, keep an open mind, and happy interpreting!

Examples of parables from different cultures

Parables aren't reserved to any one culture or place. They're used all over the world to convey wisdom, moral lessons, and philosophical ideas. Let's take a virtual trip around the globe and explore some fascinating examples of parables from different cultures.

The Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant (India)

Our first stop is India, home of the famous parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant. In this tale, several blind men touch different parts of an elephant and then argue about what an elephant looks like. One man, who touched the trunk, insists that an elephant is like a snake. Another, who touched the leg, says it's like a tree. This parable teaches us that our understanding of truth can be limited and subjective.

The Bundle of Sticks (Aesop's Fables, Ancient Greece)

Next, we travel to ancient Greece, where Aesop's fable of the Bundle of Sticks originates. A father, near his end, gathers his sons and gives them a bundle of sticks. He asks each son to break the bundle. When they fail, he unties the bundle and hands them each a single stick, which they break easily. The moral of the story? Unity makes strength.

The Farmer and His Sons (China)

Our final stop is China and the parable of The Farmer and His Sons. A farmer, on his deathbed, tells his sons that a great treasure is buried in their fields. After his death, the sons dig up the entire field but find no treasure. However, their hard work tilled the soil perfectly for a bountiful harvest. The lesson here: hard work is its own reward.

These examples show that, across cultures and time, parables remain an impactful means to convey life’s important lessons. They may differ in characters, settings, and plots, but the heart of a parable — its message — remains universally relatable.

Parable vs. Fable vs. Myth

Alright, so we've tackled the definition of parable and journeyed through some examples from around the world. Now, let's clear up some common confusion: what's the difference between a parable, a fable, and a myth?


Let's start with what we already know: a parable. A parable is a short story designed to illustrate a moral or religious lesson. The characters are often people, and the story is realistic and plausible. An example we've looked at is the Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant.


A fable, on the other hand, is also a brief story with a moral, but the characters are typically animals, plants, or inanimate objects that speak and act like humans. Aesop's Fables, such as The Bundle of Sticks, are well-known examples.


Finally, a myth is a traditional story, often involving gods, goddesses, or supernatural beings, that explains some natural or social phenomenon. Myths are not necessarily tied to a moral lesson, but they do often reflect the values and beliefs of a culture. For example, in Greek mythology, the myth of Icarus warns against hubris and disobedience.

So, while parables, fables, and myths may overlap in their use of storytelling to convey ideas, they differ in their characters, realism, and intended purpose. Understanding these differences can help you appreciate each form in its own right.

How to write your own parable

Now that we've explored the definition of parable and distinguished it from fables and myths, why not try writing your own parable? Don't worry, it's simpler than you might think. Follow these steps, and you'll have your own moral tale in no time.

Identify a Moral or Lesson

Remember that a parable usually communicates a moral or religious lesson. So, the first step to writing your parable is to decide what lesson you want to convey. Is it about honesty, humility, or perhaps the value of hard work? Write the lesson down, so you have a clear guide as you create your story.

Create Realistic Characters and Setting

Next, create your characters. They should be realistic and relatable to make the lesson more impactful. The setting should also be plausible and familiar to your audience. A parable set in a bustling city might look different from one in a quiet village, but both can deliver powerful lessons.

Develop a Simple Plot

Now, it's time to build your plot. Parables are usually short and simple, so don’t complicate things. Start with a situation, develop a conflict, and resolve it in a way that clearly illustrates your chosen lesson. Remember, the plot should serve the moral, not the other way around.

Review and Refine

After writing your parable, read it out loud. Does the story flow naturally? Does the moral shine through? If not, don't worry. Good writing often comes from rewriting. Make changes, ask for feedback, and keep refining until you're satisfied with your parable.

There you have it, a simple guide on how to write your own parable. Who knows? You might just pen the next timeless tale!

If you enjoyed delving into the meaning of parables and want to explore how to visually represent stories in your art, check out Arielle Jovellanos' workshop, 'Storytelling in Illustration.' This workshop will help you develop your storytelling skills through illustration and enhance your ability to convey complex concepts like parables in a visually engaging way.