We explain what a fable is, how they originate and the types that exist. In addition, what are its general characteristics, structure and examples.

The fable is a subgenre of narrative literature.

What is a fable?

It is known as a fable a fictional narrative, of a literary type, usually short, written in prose or verse. The characters have an archetypal or traditional value and, in addition to being people, they can be animated objects or animals. Within the story, objects, animals and people can communicate with each other. .

the fable is a subgenre of narrative literature (short story). These are educational, exemplary narratives that transmit an ethical, traditional or moral message. The most usual recipient of fables are children.

Therefore, its objective is pedagogical or illustrative: educate the reader through fictional or fantastic situations in the customs, vices or virtues that are considered fundamental in a specific human community, or perhaps in all humanity.

The teaching of the fable is generally summarized at the end of the story, and is usually more or less explicit. This genre should not be confused with other didactic genres like the sermon, the parable or the apologists.

Though shares with legend and myth its traditional character, those other fantastic stories, which explain the origin of something, do not always include a moral. Although it is similar to the story in its narrative form, unlike the latter, the fable is explicitly didactic.

See also: Literary genres

Origin of the fable

Ancient fables tell stories of cunning or ungrateful animals.

the fable is a very old genre.

Archaeologists have found examples in clay tablets from the Mesopotamian era.

In them are counted stories of cunning, ungrateful or arrogant animalswhich would indicate that they were already used with the same educational meaning.

You may be interested:  Petroleum

During the classical Greco-Roman era, fables were very common, especially those of the Greek Aesop, the author of many of the ones we still read.

His example was followed by the Romans Horace and Flavio Alvianowhich shows that it was a very successful genre in the West.

In the Middle Ages the fable continued to be written. The authors were generally anonymous (fearful of the inquisition) or they are collective creations. Translations from Arabic or other languages ​​also abounded.

In the Renaissance the fable reached a very high pointespecially by authors such as the Frenchman Jean de La Fontaine.

How is the fable composed?

The traditional fable is made up of three parts:

  • Beginning. Where the characters are presented, their defining features and the initial points of the story: the geographical, temporal, social location, etc. It is usually very short.
  • Complication. The development of the plot here leads to a problematic situation, either morally or ethically, derived from the characteristics or the initial actions of the characters. Usually a challenge, an opportunity or a dilemma appears here.
  • Outcome. The end of the fable, whether happy or unhappy, where the consequences of the choice made in the complication occur and, finally, the moral or final teaching of the story is enunciated.

types of fable

fable - mythology
Mythological fables collect the mystical content of a culture.

Depending on their nature, fables can be classified as:

  • agonal. They consist of a story of confrontation of behaviors or opinions between the protagonists, or between the protagonist and the antagonist. As they pass, one character will be rewarded and the other will be punished, thus establishing the teaching.
  • mythological. They are the fables that collect the religious or mystical content of a culture or specific human group, that is, their mythology. But unlike epic tales, they focus on small anecdotes that demonstrate their cultural values.
  • Of animals. Their protagonists are beings from the animal kingdom, who are provided with human traits (speech or intelligence) and are placed in possible situations of people’s daily lives.
You may be interested:  What is Basilisk (mythological Beast)

The morale

It is called a moral or teaching the life lesson the reader gets once the reading of the fable (or many children’s stories) is finished. It is a generally moral or ethical lesson.

The morale invites to follow certain behaviors and reasoning, but judges or advises against others, considered negative or reprehensible. It is usually enunciated by the narrator of the fable and generally exposed in an explicit way to the reader.

fable structure

fables prince and pauper
The structure of the fable is based on an opposition, like the prince and the beggar.

the classic fable has a double structure, which consists of a fundamental, main opposition, between two characters whose subjective positions are usually opposite, paradoxical or challenging. For example, it can be a hungry person and a rich man, a greedy person and a beggar, etc.

It is, then, about two characters who are always in social inequality: one high and one low. Then, thanks to an unforeseen event (survenant), these positions are often reversed, so that each of them learns a lesson by putting themselves in the other’s shoes.

This structure of the fable is called “double forwarding”. by the Canadian semiotician Christian Vandendorpe in his book Learn to read fables (1989) and it is extremely common, especially in popular fables, in which a very clear moral teaching can be appreciated.

narrative elements of the fable

The narrator is the one who tells the story and in the end summarizes the moral.

The fable comprises very few narrative elements, since it is a generally simple and direct story. Its elements are:

  • Characters. They are generally few. There are at least two, whose positions, as we said before, are found.
  • setting. A place, generally described very succinctly.
  • Storyteller. He is the one who tells the story and in the end summarizes the moral.

Differences between fable and legend

The legend is also a story loaded with warnings, which are concealed or attributed to generally supernatural, magical or mystical elements. In some cases, it inspires the reader with a certain fear, respect or vision of behaviors or elements that are traditionally considered inappropriate in their culture.

This relationship, however, is not always very clear, unlike the moral of the fable, which is explained at the end by the narrator.

You may be interested:  Baroque Literature

The leyends they do not necessarily narrate clearly imaginary situations nor are the protagonists always animals. Its main characteristic is that they go back in time or in a forgotten era. The fable, on the other hand, never aspires to be taken as real.

Importance of the fable

the fable is a very traditional genre in the history of reading. Together with the parable and the legend, it is one of the forms of story that preserves for the new generations some kind of specific teaching or warning.

It is probable that the first methods of teaching (especially civic, moral or religious) consisted, among other things, of fables and similar stories. A) Yes, the infant could memorize and understand the content educational in a simple and entertaining way, often involving everyday animals.

fable writers

The Lion and the Mouse is a fable by Jean de la Fontaine.

Some of the major fable writers in history were:

  • Aesop (c. 600 BC-564 BC)
  • Gaius Julius Phaedrus (c. 15 BC-AD 70)
  • Marie of France (unknown, around 12th century)
  • Ramon Llull (c.1232-1315)
  • Jean de laFontaine (1621-1695)

In recent times, the legends of the Honduran-Guatemalan writer Augusto Monterroso (1921-2003) were well known.

fable example

An example of a short fable by Augusto Monterroso:

The donkey and the flute

A flute that no one played anymore had been lying in the field for a long time, until one day a donkey who was walking around blew loudly on it, making it produce the sweetest sound of its life, that is to say, of the life of the donkey and of the flute.

Unable to understand what had happened, since rationality was not their forte and they both believed in rationality, they hastily separated, ashamed of the best thing that each had done during their sad existence.


  • “Fable” on Wikipedia.
  • “Characteristics of the fable” in Language and Literature Materials.
  • “The fable” in Educational Portal.
  • “Session 4. The fable” (Educational material) at the Center for Open Education.
  • “Fable”in The Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Would you like to share it?