Fable – Concept, structure and types of fables

We explain what the fable is and what the parts of this literary creation are. How they are classified, examples and what is the moral.

A fable is a subgenre of narrative literature with a pedagogical purpose.

What is a fable?

A fable is a generally brief literary creation, written in both prose and verse and starring animals, animated objects or people, who for the purposes of the story have similar communication skills.

It is a subgenre of narrative literature, whose mission is fundamentally pedagogical: to illustrate through imaginary situations the customs, vices or virtues of a specific human region or, even, of all humanity. This is carried out with formative intentions in ethics, tradition or morals, so the usual addressee of a fable is children.

This teaching is usually summarized, at the end of the story, in a moral or teaching. The fable should not be confused with the sermon, the parable or the apologues (which are didactic genres as well) or with the short story or the poem (which as art forms always lack a moral).

The fable is an extremely ancient genre: clay tablets from the Mesopotamian era have been found with stories of cunning, ungrateful, or overbearing animals. What’s more, were cultivated profusely during the classical era by the Greek Aesop, author of many of the fables that we still read, and by Phaedrus, and later by the Romans Horacio and Flavio Alviano.

In the Middle Ages the fable was reborn by the hand of anonymous authors, and those translated from Arabic or other languages ​​abounded. In the Renaissance it reappeared, hand in hand with authors such as Jean de La Fontaine.

Parts of a fable

At the beginning of the fable the characters are introduced and the starting points are established.

The fable is made up of three parts:

  • Beginning. In which the characters are introduced and the initial points of the story are established, such as their geographical or temporal location, etc. It is usually short and to the point.
  • Complication. It is the development of the plot that leads to a situation of moral or ethical problems, derived from the characteristics or the initial actions of the character.
  • Outcome. Whether happy or not, it is the final part of the story where the consequences are given and the moral or final teaching that this story brings to the reader is stated.

Fable types

The mythological fable collects the religious or mystical content of a cultural tradition.

Fables can be classified into:

  • Agonal. They are based on the confrontation of two behaviors or opinions between two protagonists or the protagonist and the antagonist, to finally reward one and punish the other.
  • Mythological. Those that collect the religious or mystical content of a cultural tradition, such as its gods or foundational stories.
  • Of animals. Those whose protagonists are beings of the animal kingdom, provided with human features such as speech or intelligence.

Fable example

Fable: The Donkey and the Horse

A merchant always traveled in the company of a donkey and a horse: the donkey carried the heavy load and the horse, on the other hand, carried nothing. On one of those trips, the poor donkey felt that his strength was not enough to reach the nearest city. Almost on the point of fainting, he said to the horse:

-This load is so heavy that I will not be able to bear it another minute. If you like me at all, horse, put a couple of these bundles on your back.

“I’m sorry, ass,” replied the horse, “but I was not born to carry such heavy loads, but to gallop freely and beautifully on the roads.”

And having said that, he continued as if nothing had happened. A while later, completely exhausted, the donkey collapsed and died of so much fatigue. Realizing what had happened, the merchant grabbed everything that the donkey was carrying and put it on the horse’s back, next to the skin of the unfortunate donkey. As soon as he felt the heavy load on his shoulders, the horse said to himself:

-What a fool I have been! In order not to alleviate the suffering of the donkey a little, I am now forced to carry everything that he was carrying and even his own skin!

And the moral of this story is that whoever does not help others because they believe they are superior or better than him, will end up harming himself and sooner or later will take his place.


The moral is the teaching that leaves a fable.

The moral is the lesson or teaching about life that is obtained after reading a fable or some children’s stories. Is about a lesson usually of a moral or ethical nature, that is to say, that it invites certain behaviors and modes of reasoning, and that it judges or discredits others, considered negative.