What is a Fable? - Examples & Morals

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Think you can't learn a lesson from a short children's story? Think again! In this lesson, we'll learn more about what fables are and the purpose they achieve. We'll also take a look at a few popular fables.

The Country Mouse and the City Mouse

Have you ever heard the story of the country mouse and the city mouse?

Fables teach morals and basic lessons about life.
fable, aesop, country mouse, city mouse

The city mouse, visiting his country mouse cousin, was sorely disappointed with the food provided during his stay, though they ate in peace and quiet. The city mouse invites the country mouse to see how the wealthier mice live, and all the food available to them inside the city limits. Unfortunately, every time they try to eat, danger lurks and they cannot finish their meal. The country man returns home, content to enjoy his small provisions.

It's a short story, right? And, at first glance, it may appear to just be a nice tale of mousely friendship. But, what's behind it is so much more. Here's what I mean.


The story of the country mouse and the city mouse was originally penned by a man called Aesop, and he is one of the best-known authors of fables in history. A fable is a a short story that teaches a lesson or provides a moral by which we can live.

Generally written for children, the stories usually have the following characteristics:

  • Very short in nature
  • Simple, direct language
  • Animals or plants serve as main characters and exhibit human behaviors such as talking
  • Teach a life lesson

Aesop's fables usually showcase one animal acting badly, and then learning a lesson through the action of the story. Believed to have been a Greek slave, Aesop is credited with assembling more than 600 fables used not only to entertain, but to present an important lesson. He was not the only author of fables, but probably the most well-known.

These fables have been handed down from generation to generation, and though some of the wording has changed, the important morals behind them have not.

Let's take a look at a few popular fables and the lessons that can be learned from them.

Fables in Practice

Fables throughout the years have used animals in a variety of human scenarios to help teach lessons about good and bad behaviors. Here are some summaries of some of Aesop's best-loved fables and the moral they present.

The Goose and the Golden Egg

This fable tells the story of a man who had a very rare goose who would lay a golden egg every morning. The man began selling the eggs and became quite rich. As his wealth grew, he became more greedy and wanted more eggs than just the one the goose laid every day. He killed the goose and cut it open, hoping to get all the golden eggs at once, but found nothing.

Moral: Greed over-reaches itself. The story basically teaches that not being content with what you have and wanting more can lead to your own destruction.

The Lion and the Mouse

A mouse running atop a sleeping lion must beg for his life when the lion wakes up and threatens to eat him. The mouse promises to return the lion a favor if he allows him to live. The lion decides to let the mouse go. Some time later, the lion finds himself in a trap laid by hunters. While they're away, the mouse gnaws through the rope and frees the lion.

Moral: Little friends may become great friends. The lion, thinking that the mouse could not possibly help him out of a bind, is surprised to discover he has exactly the skill needed to free him. His friendship is rewarded for saving the mouse's life.

The Two Goats

Two goats set out to cross a bridge, each from opposite sides. When they meet in the middle of the bridge, they discover it is too narrow for both of them to pass. Neither goat was willing to step aside to let the other goat pass. Their stubbornness led to both goats falling in the stream, where they died.

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