6 Examples of Fable In Literature

Definition of Fable

The word “fable” originated from the Latin word “fabula” which refers to the chronological sequence of events in a narrative. It is a brief story that uses anthropomorphized animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature as characters to convey a moral lesson. Fables showcase human behaviors and flaws through allegorical tales in simple language that teach about wisdom, common sense or practical virtues.

Unlike other short stories, fables always build to a climactic point meant to advise readers. The defining quality is the moral takeaway rather than highly developed setting or characters. Fables allow readers to draw comparisons between the behaviors of foolish or wicked animals and their own possible faults and life lessons. Through succinct fictional plots starring non-human entities, fables dispense pragmatic advice for challenges all people face.

Characteristics of Fable

The presentation of human beings as animals is the characteristics of the literary fable. It is unlike that fable is flourished among primitive people. According to Lessing, the Fable embodies a moral in a special case; this is vested with reality, and narrated as a story, which suggests the moral at once. Many of the Fables turn upon the actions and characteristics of animals. This practice has arisen out of the circumstances that the animals chosen have a certain fixed character; as the cunning of the fox, the meekness of the lamb, the strength of the lion.

Well-known Fables

There are many famous fables in history of literature. The purpose to write fable is to give some lesson and to apprise the readers about some reality and fact. The well-known fable of the ‘hare and the tortoise’ teaches the lesson; ‘Slow and Steady wins the race’. Similarly, the story, ‘haste makes waste’ is also categorized to impeach lesson that every work should be done with due care and peace of mind.

Subject Matter of Fables:

The subject-matter of fables has sometimes to do with supernatural and unusual incidents and often draws its origin from folklore sources.

The fables attributed to Aesop, a Greek slave who lived around 600 B.C., are by far the most well-known, but those of La’ Fontaine, a Frenchman writing in the seventeenth century, are almost as well-known for their particular humor, wit, wisdom, and sprightly satire.

‘Bidpai’ is also one of the fables which was composed in Sanskrit in 300 A.D. This version was composed in different languages in 3rd and 16th centuries.

‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell is a political satire, which has been composed in the form of a fable which shows the destitute condition of African people and supremacy of white people over black. Further ‘droll fables of our time’ by James Thurber are also very famous.

What is Fabliau?

The fable definition has earlier been discussed. Fabliau is a short narrative in octosyllabic verse, consists of 300 to 400 lines. Although the form of fabliau is in French, but there are examples in Literature also, like Revve’s Tale and Chaucer’s Miller’s.

What is Fabula?

It is a form of comedy drama which remained popular in Rome until the period of Augustus. Beside the characters as discussed in fable definition, the characters of fabula were represented by masks. The famous authors of fabula were, Maccus, Paapus, Manducus, Dossenus etc.

What is Fabulation?

The term introduced by Robert Scholes in ‘The Fabulators’ which was used to describe the anti-vowel. It involved allegory and verbal acrobatics.

examples of fable in literature

Example#1

“The Tortoise and the Hare” (Aesop Fable)

“A Hare was making fun of the Tortoise one day for being so slow. “Do you ever get anywhere?” he asked with a mocking laugh. “Yes,” replied the Tortoise, “and I get there sooner than you think. I’ll run you a race and prove it.” The Hare thought this was a good joke, but he agreed to the race. The Fox marked off the distance and started them off. The Hare raced down the road for a while and then paused to rest. He looked back at the Tortoise and cried out, “How do you expect to win this race when you are walking along at your slow, slow pace?” And the Tortoise replied, “I’ll win because I keep going steadily forward.”

The hare mocked the tortoise for being exceedingly slow. But the tortoise challenged him to a race, confident that his steady persistence would allow him to beat the hare, who was overconfident in his speed. During the race, the hare raced ahead initially but then paused to rest, underestimating the plodding tortoise. The tortoise replied that he would win by continuing slowly but steadily onward to the finish line. The moral – slow and steady perseverance beats erratic speed.

Example#2

“The Ant and the Grasshopper” (La Fontaine Fable)

“In the winter a hungry grasshopper begs for food from ants who spent all summer collecting it. Though the idle grasshopper deserves to starve, one compassionate ant asks, “What were you doing all summer instead of storing food?” The grasshopper replies, “I was busy making beautiful music and enjoying life.” So the ants ask, “Well then, why not entertain us with some of that beautiful music through the winter?”

In winter, a grasshopper who spent the summer making music instead of storing food begs the ants for sustenance. Though deserving of his fate, one empathetic ant asks what occupied him all summer. “I made beautiful music and enjoyed life,” replies the grasshopper. So the ants request he entertain them with his music through the cold season in return for food.

Example#3

“The Merchant of Venice” by Shakespeare

“All that glitters is not gold; Often have you heard that told: Many a man his life hath sold But my outside to behold: Gilded tombs do worms enfold.”

The fable cautions that outward appearances can be deceiving. What glitters is not necessarily gold. Many have sacrificed life itself in pursuit of what seems valuable on the surface but lacks true worth beneath. Just as gilded tombs may appear beautiful yet contain only worms and decay, things are often not what they superficially seem to be. One must look deeper to ascertain genuine value.

Example#4

“The Happy Prince” by Oscar Wilde

“He is as beautiful as a weathercock, only not quite so useful. He does nothing but stand round all day long with his looks.”

This line mocks the bejeweled statue of the late prince for his opulence and supposed beauty but utter lack of contribution to the people. The comparison to a weathercock highlights the superficial attractiveness combined with pointlessness of both. It serves as a commentary on wasted privilege and the excesses of nobility at the expense of social responsibility.

Example#5

“Peer Gynt” by Henrik Ibsen

“The ogre roared, “Let me look at your fingers! I’ll tell by your fingers what life you have led.” He looked at my hands with an eye most discerning: “By foul deeds, not fair, these fingers were bred! You have lived as you lived , and so shall you die, Go to heaven—no, go to the other place!”

An ogre claims he can divine one’s life history from examining their fingers. Upon inspecting my hands he proclaims – “Your fingers reveal a life of foul not fair deeds. As you have lived, so shall you die. Any heavenly reward is beyond you; only the other place awaits!” The moral being that how one lives determines one’s ultimate destiny. Our actions shape our character and fate, for good or for ill.

Example#6

“Doctor Faustus” by Christopher Marlowe

“His waxen wings did mount above his reach, And, melting, heavens conspired his overthrow.”

This alludes to Icarus from Greek mythology, who flew too close to the sun with wings made of wax and feathers. His hubristic ambition exceeded his capacity and led to a disastrous demise. The fable parallels Faustus, who also arrogantly overextends his mortal limits in pursuit of divine knowledge and pays a heavy price.

Examples of Fable In Literature
Examples of Fable In Literature

Related Terms

Allegory

Allegory refers to symbolic storytelling where the characters and events act as metaphors for more abstract ideas, often relating to ethical or political concepts. In fables, talking animals like foxes or ants personify human traits and serve as allegorical figures rather than realistic characters. Their imagined actions represent broad societal behaviors.

Moral

The moral is the brief lesson that a fable aims to teach its audience, usually about wisdom, ethics, or practical life advice. After relaying the allegorical anecdote, fables tend to explicitly state a maxim summarizing the recommended conduct or attitude. For example, Aesop concludes by saying laziness leads to poverty or liars eventually face consequences. The straightforward statement of the “moral of the story” is a signature stylistic feature of the fable genre.

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