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Examples of Parables in Literature


Parables are stories that serve to illustrate a moral point. Many parables are religious in nature and can be found in religious texts such as the Bible or the Buddhist Tipitaka. There are also secular parables, including those in "Aesop's Fables," such as "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." Parables in literature can be an effective way to impart moral teachings because stories can be recalled with clarity and interest and are often more memorable than other teaching tools.

"The Boy Who Cried Wolf"

"The Boy Who Cried Wolf" warns against lying because of its inevitable consequences. The phrase "the boy who cried wolf" has even become a part of common vernacular. The boy, a sheepherder, was bored while guarding the sheep on a hill, so he cried out that a wolf was attacking the sheep. The villagers rushed over, only to find out that the boy had lied to them. The boy cried out a second time, with the same results. At the end of the parable, a real wolf comes to devour the sheep, and the boy cries out, but the villagers ignore him because they believe he is only trying to fool them. The boy discovers that a liar will seldom be believed, even when he is telling the truth.

"The Prodigal Son"

"The Prodigal Son," a parable found in both the Book of Luke and in the Lotus Sutra teachings of Mahayana Buddhism, teaches about the compassion that God has for humanity. In both versions, a son leaves his wealthy father for the city and becomes poor and miserable. The son desires independence but soon realizes he cannot survive without his father; this is mean to be a parallel to the rebellion of humanity against God and its consequences. In the Buddhist Prodigal Son parable, the father gets the son back by getting his employees to ask him to take a job doing menial tasks. When the father is about to die, he reveals to the son that he is giving him his entire inheritance. In the story found in the Book of Luke, the son has to take a job feeding pigs; when he returns home, his father throws him a huge party celebrating his return. Both versions are designed to illustrate how God welcomes those who follow him.

"All Is Vanity"

"All Is Vanity," a Buddhist parable, is about how humans should forsake worldly pleasures and attempt to lead a life without temptation or suffering. In All Is Vanity, a rare species of monkey lived in the Himalayas. Hunters set up a trap to capture the monkeys because they wished to collect their prized and rare blood. The monkeys were clever and skilled at avoiding traps but couldn't resist rice wine and fancy shoes, so the hunters set up a trap with rice wine barrels and dancing clogs. The monkeys saw that it was a trap but still couldn't resist drinking the wine and dancing in the shoes, and the hunters captured and killed them. The parable illustrates how people often give in to temptation even if they know it is bad for them, so the best thing to do is to find a way to give up all desire and seek reincarnation in an afterlife free of suffering and temptation.

"The Emperor's New Clothes"

"The Emperor's New Clothes" is a parable about people's unwillingness to call attention to something wrong for fear of looking foolish. A vain emperor, who enjoyed wearing all sorts of fancy clothes, is approached by two con artists who tell him that they will create for him a suit of clothes that is invisible to stupid or incompetent people. The emperor pays the men to create the clothes, though in actuality they create nothing at all and only pretend to work on a pair of clothes. Everyone pretends to admire the clothes for fear of being seen as stupid or incompetent. The emperor ends up taking off his clothes to try on the pair of invisible clothes and ends up parading naked around town. The only person who calls attention to the emperor being naked is a young boy in the streets.

About the Author

April Lee started writing professionally in 2009. She is the marketing writer for an independently owned cheese business. She attended the University of North Texas and majored in English.

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