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Meaning of Parables Explained With Popular Examples from Literature

Examples of Parables in Literature
A parable is a story/prose or a verse that intends to give a message or teach a moral principle. This post talks about the meaning and examples of parables in literature.
Penlighten Staff
Last Updated: Feb 8, 2018
Popular Parable Books
► A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
► The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
► Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
Literature is one of the most powerful mediums of expression. Other than acting as a medium for creativity, literature sometimes also acts a powerful medium to deliver a message to society at large. As kids, we grew up listening to stories that were not only entertaining, but also delivered sensitive morals. This way, the message is not only delivered effectively, but it also does not sound preachy in nature. Stories and prose that deliver some morals―religious or non-religious―are called 'parables' in literature.
What is a Parable?
Reading book
'Parable' is a word that is derived from the Latin word parabola, which means comparison, and the Greek word parabolē, which means analogy. A parable is a story that illustrates or delivers a message. They are also redefined in today's style by incorporating them in scenarios of the modern-day. Examples of parables are also found in poetry.

A short story that teaches a moral or spiritual lesson; especially: one of the stories told by Jesus Christ and recorded in the Bible. A parable is a short story that intends to give a message. ―Merriam-Webster
Famous Parables in Literature
The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen
New clothes cartoon
An emperor was so fond of wearing beautiful clothes that he paid no attention to the growth of his kingdom. Two weavers from a foreign land once came to his kingdom and proclaimed that they were so wonderful with their work, that only a person of merit or the one who is not stupid could see what they weaved.

The emperor came to know about them, and invited them to stitch clothes for him. They ordered the finest and richest silk, and set on their work. In reality, all the fine silk and thread went into their bags, and they simply duped others by weaving nothing. When the emperor sent his trusted officials to check the progress of their work, they were aghast to see nothing. Moreover, no one spoke for the fear of being ridiculed as stupid or unfit for their positions.

When they presented the 'outfit' to the emperor, he too was baffled to see nothing at all. But others praised how good the silk was, only to prove that they were not stupid, and protect their posts. Now, to protect his name, even the emperor decided to pretend that he loved the fabric, and the outfit was awesome. He paraded naked in his kingdom, and none of them spoke, until an innocent kid pointed out that he is wearing nothing, as a matter of fact.

Moral: We often fail to oppose something or point out something that is wrong, for the fear of being ridiculed. Everyone wants to speak, but no one speaks. It might happen that, in a business meeting, all employees want to oppose some idea or policy, but no one opposes and keeps mum, which is a loss for everyone.
Triple-Filter Test by Socrates (Unknown Author)
Once Socrates was stopped by an acquaintance, and was told by him that he has heard something about his friend. Before he could proceed further, Socrates stopped him, and told him to filter his information by passing three tests. First, he asked him whether he was sure that what he had heard was the truth. Then he asked whether he was going to tell something good about his friend. When he replied in the negative, Socrates asked him the last question: whether the information is going to be of any use to him (Socrates). When the acquaintance denied its usefulness, Socrates simply replied that he did not need to know anything that is not the truth, not good, and also of no use to him.

Moral: The message is simple. People waste their precious time in gossiping about others. If we turn a deaf ear to such gossips, it will avoid unnecessary defamation of any person. It's best to mind our own business.
Examples of Parables in Poetry
Victorian engraving
  • Parable Of The Dove by Louise Glück.

  • Parable Of Faith by Louise Glück

  • Parable For A Certain Virgin by Dorothy Parker
Examples of Parables in the Bible
There are many examples of parables that are recorded in the Bible, through which Jesus Christ has imparted his teachings to his disciples.
Parable of the Good Samaritan
Good samaritan
Parable of the Mustard Seed
Mustard seed
► Parable of the Talents
Modern-day Examples of Parables
Parable of The Broken Window by Frédéric Bastiat in his essay That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Not Seen

This is a famous example of an economic fallacy. A young boy once accidentally breaks the window pane of his father's shop. A passerby comments that it is actually a blessing in disguise for other people in the economy. To repair the window, they have to hire the services of a window repairman, thus giving him his livelihood. However, one generally tends to look at only one side of the coin. If the shopkeeper did not have to spend on repairing the window, he could have spent it on something which he wanted, perhaps buying shoes. By diverting his funds elsewhere, he cannot invest money in buying shoes, which implies lesser income to the shoemaker.

Moral: In short, destruction is not the way to keep money circulating, and we blindly believe that it will do good to the society in the long run.
How Much Land Does a Man Need? By Leo Tolstoy
Two sisters have a debate as to which life is better: city or country life. The elder sister, who lives in a city, advocates that city life is much better comparatively, since they don't have to toil in the soil, and can enjoy many comforts. The younger sister states that, their life is rough, but they don't waste their time on useless things, and have no other worries.

The younger sister's husband, Pahom, thinks that everything is good with their country life, except that he needs a bigger piece of land, so that he does not have to fear the Devil. Pahom luckily manages to buy more land. However, with more land, his heart desires even more land. In a bid to gain more, he travels to the Bashkir land. The Bashkirs have a deal with him that he can have as much land as much he walks throughout the day, for a thousand rubles. Their only condition is that, he must come back to the starting point at the end of the day. Pahom's desire to achieve more makes him walk so much, that he loses his strength, and when he finally reaches the starting point, he has no strength to live, and succumbs to weakness. The Bashkir chief laughs, and Pahom's servant states that he now needs only that much land that is enough to bury him.

Moral: Man is never satisfied, and he often becomes greedy in a bid to gain more. How much is more, cannot be defined, and it is up to him to decide how far he must go simply to achieve something he wants at the expense of others.
Parables are indeed an interesting way to deliver a message, without being monotonous. However, they differ from a fable, which generally employs fictional or talking animals.