Although the fables themselves did not originate from folk tradition but rather from a particular, skilled storyteller, they nevertheless reflect a wisdom important for understanding certain lessons in everyday living. These lessons do not prescribe ethical actions by which one may improve one’s character and be judged a good person. Rather, more often they offer advice to help the reader secure a safe future—a future marked by fewer mistakes in judgment. In this way, the animal protagonists may represent the worst of human nature and suggest the ramifications of such behavior on one’s personal fortune. In the popular fable of “The Fox and the Grapes,” for example, a hungry fox who fails to jump high enough and reach the tantalizing fruit above snidely concludes in his frustration that the grapes must be sour. The fable thus satirizes the less industrious who would rather find fault in challenging tasks rather than work harder for a worthy profit.
Often, the fables describe a contest between two animals of different species and character. The famous fable of “The Hare and the Tortoise,” for example, illustrates and recommends the benefit of being steady in one’s attitude toward life and success. Often in the fables, scores are evened between two protagonists. In these cases, the motive may be turnabout or revenge: The fable of “The Fox and the Crane” provides an excellent example of this simple aspect of human nature. In other cases, the motive may be repayment for a previous act of kindness. Perhaps the best-known example of this lesson is the fable of “The Lion and the Mouse,” in which the former spares the life of his little suppliant and later finds the act repaid in full when the mouse gnaws...
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