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In Poor Richard's aphorism "A small leak will sink a great ship," what is the moral...

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cat45 | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 6, 2009 at 3:25 PM via web

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In Poor Richard's aphorism "A small leak will sink a great ship," what is the moral that is being taught?

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jseligmann | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted October 7, 2009 at 2:55 AM (Answer #1)

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The above answers are excellent. I have one additional point to make, and that has to do with time. A small leak in a great ocean liner can go unnoticed for weeks. Unattended to, however, the ocean liner will fill with ocean water, begin to list and eventually sink.

Once, over five million years ago, in what is now Arizona, there was a lit trickle of water that became a stream, and that stream became a river. The river cut a shallow path into the red-brown crust of the earth. Over ages and ages, the river washed away more and more earth and cut into the rocks. Slowly, incessantly. The Grand Canyon is a monument to the power of water and time.


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kimfuji | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted October 6, 2009 at 5:13 PM (Answer #2)

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The moral that is being taught is that a very slight moral infraction can cause the downfall of a very strong person. As an example, there is a very wealthy and intelligent man who seems to be very successful on the outside. His wife loves him; his children love him. The people at his company love him. He is well known in the community and everyone respects him. But he has a little problem....(I won't say what it is because it could be anything.) This "little" problem affects every aspect of his life. He won't admit it to himself or others. He won't work to try and overcome his one little character flaw. However, in the end it causes him to loose everything.

This aphorism is a great writing prompt because you could write a tragic story built on this basic premise.

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parkerlee | Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted October 6, 2009 at 10:12 PM (Answer #3)

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To add to the comment written above, notice that proverbs or common sayings using different metaphors often have a common message.

In this case the point of vulnerability is a leak in a ship. We can express the same thing by talking about the weakest link in a chain, for example. ("A chain is no stronger than its weakest link.") Another similar one is "For want of a nail a country was lost." (There is a whole poem to this effect!)

The lesson of fixing problems before they get even more complicated also could be highlighted. In this case "A stitch in time saves nine" comes to mind, or "An ounce of prevention weighs more than a pound of cure," or even "Nip it in the bud."

Sometimes proverbs even contradict each other! Consider, for example, "look before you leap" compared to "opportunity only strikes but once." The first commends foresight and prudence; the  second, courage and expediency!

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