What is the theme/purpose of a fable?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The ultimate purpose of a fable is to teach the reader a lesson or moral.  Fables often use satire to get across or point out flaws in man or human experiences.  Many fables rely on animals to tell their stories, and those animals usually symbolize a human characteristic or trait the author wants to criticize for the purposes of teaching a moral.  Famous fables include Aesop’s Fables and the Uncle Remus/Brer Rabbit series of stories by Joel Chandler Harris.  For example, in one of the famous Brer Rabbit stories, “Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby,” Brer Rabbit comes across a doll made by Brer Fox on the road one day.  When Brer Rabbit talks to it, it doesn’t answer.  Brer Rabbit beats up the doll for its lack of manners and gets stuck to the tar the doll is coated in.  It’s a trap Brer Fox has set to catch Brer Rabbit.  Brer Rabbit pleads to Brer Fox to kill him by throwing him in the briar patch, and Brer Fox agrees.  Little does Brer Fox know that the briar patch is the place Brer Rabbit was born and lives.  Brer Rabbit survives being killed by Brer Fox by trickery because Brer Fox can’t chase him through the briar patch full of thorns.

In Chandler’s trickster stories about Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit, Brer Rabbit represents a weak slave from the South who is able to out trick his master by playing on the master’s ignorance.  It is a story with origins in Africa, and they chronicle lessons on how to survive in life.  It is also a story about how even the weakest can out maneuver and manipulate those stronger through trickery. 

Almost all fables are written to provide a moral lesson to the reader.  Usually written for children, they teach about life through the use of animals who symbolically represent human traits and flaws. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial