The Boy Who Cried Wolf: Moral, Theme & Analysis Video

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  • 0:03 What Is a Fable?
  • 1:19 Crying Wolf
  • 2:09 Is the Story Still Relevant?
  • 3:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

This lesson introduces the story, themes, and moral lesson of Aesop's fable ''The Boy Who Cried Wolf.'' We'll discover the significance of the wolf, the boy's motivation, and the consequences of lying.

What Is a Fable?

The prospect of herding a flock of sheep sounds like it could be a great adventure; however, as Aesop shows in his well-known fable ''The Boy Who Cried Wolf'', it's actually a really boring job. Fables are like fairy tales, but they don't usually contain princesses and magic. Instead, they're stories intended to relate a moral lesson. Some other examples of fables include ''The Tortoise and the Hare,'' which illustrates how ''slow and steady wins the race,'' and ''The Crow and the Pitcher,'' which illustrates how ''necessity is the mother of invention.''

Fables often include animals as characters. The characters in ''The Boy Who Cried Wolf'' include the eponymous boy, his flock, the townspeople, and the wolf.

The whole point of the boy's job is to keep the flock together and protect the sheep from predators. Today, sheep's main predator is the coyote, followed by dogs, mountain lions, bears, eagles, and foxes. Wolves are actually quite low on the list. In Aesop's time and later, wolves were feared in everyday life and played a common motif in literature, such as werewolves and the Big Bad Wolf, who was Little Red Riding Hood's murderer. This is where we get the phrase, ''a wolf in sheep's clothing.'' Wolves are also sometimes cast as messengers, as symbols of harmony, or as harbingers of war.

Crying Wolf!

In ''The Boy Who Cried Wolf'', the wolf is at first a figment of the boy's imagination. When the boy gets bored on duty, he decides to play a practical joke. He races into town crying ''Wolf!'' This frightens the townspeople; but, of course, when the armed villagers get to the pasture, they find the flock happily grazing, and the boy is rolling over in laughter. The next day, he tries it again. The villagers are skeptical this time, but take the bait, although after a third time even fewer answer the call. Ironically, when a wolf really does emerge from the forest to slaughter the sheep, not one single villager will come to the boy's aid. The boy howls through town, ''Wolf! Wolf!'' but no one believes him this time.

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