Tag Archives: fable

The Tortoise and the Hare

Text:

BR: What comes to mind is the Tortoise and the Hare. A tortoise and a hare were competing in a race to see which animal was faster. The hare was so confident that he would win that he bragged for weeks to the entire village that he could win with almost no effort. On the day of the race, the hare easily breezed by the tortoise and seemed like the obvious winner. After gaining a few miles on the tortoise, he even decided to take a nap in the final leg of the race to gloat. The tortoise, however, never gave up and steadily walked toward the finish line. While the hare was napping, the tortoise was able to catch up to the hare and was mere steps away from victory by the time the hare finally woke up. The hare was too late. He lunged at the finish line just in time to watch the tortoise cross it, and ultimately lost the race solely due to his arrogance. The moral of the story is that slow and steady wins the race, and that arrogance can be your downfall.

Context:

BR: The first time I remember hearing this story was in first grade. My teacher read this story to our class as we sat and listened on the alphabet carpet. I have since heard many renditions, and think that the story’s central message is a valuable one. 

Analysis: 

The Tortoise and the Hare is one of the oldest fairy tales, going as far back as 400 B.C. and is reportedly part of Aesop’s fables. Most of these stories feature animal characters that undergo some kind of trial or adventure and the story provides a moral lesson. In this case, the lesson is that being slow and steady is the way to victory. I’ve heard people say that it isn’t true that going slow and steady is better, that the hare would have run the race if it didn’t fall asleep. So perhaps the moral of the story is more that being arrogant and overconfident can cost you.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf

Text

“I think it was basically like, a boy would be outside playing, and he would always, you know, yell that a wolf was coming, or a wolf had done something bad, or he would do something bad and blame it on the wolf that was there. So he kept crying that there was a wolf, or yelling out that there was a wolf, and then people started- they’d always come running and there was no wolf, and he [the boy] thought that was really funny. And then eventually the wolf DID come, and when he cried that there was a wolf, nobody came to pay attention to him because he had lied so many times, and then the wolf ate him.”

Context 

J, my mother, currently lives in Seattle, Washington in the United States, but grew up in various towns in Ontario, Canada. She is the oldest of three siblings, and first heard this tale from her father when she was very young. When asked about the context in which she first heard the story, J provided the following: 

“I’m having a little bit of difficulty remembering the exact context, but Grandpa always was a big, like, moralistic storyteller, so he would use examples. So often when [her brother’s name] and I would fight, um, we would try to accuse each other of all kinds of outlandish crazy things. And, you know, sometimes I, as the older sibling, would try to work things to my advantage. And Grandpa would get frustrated with us because he knew that we were exaggerating or blaming each other for things. So he would basically talk to us about the story of the boy who cried wolf, because he was trying to enforce in us the idea that if we exaggerated or said things that weren’t true, that, you know, when something actually did happen we wouldn’t be believed.”

Analysis

As J stated in her own interpretation of this story, The Boy Who Cried Wolf fits closely within the common notion of a tale: a story with a moral value or lesson that is told primarily to children. In this instance, the tale’s moral is cautionary, showing a young boy who transgresses numerous social boundaries and is punished (eaten by the wolf) as a result. In a slightly simplified application of Levi-Strauss’s paradigmatic theory of structuralism, this tale features a binary opposites pair of honesty and dishonesty that correlate to safety/community and danger/isolation respectively. When considering J’s observations about truth-telling, this tale ties into the trust involved in sharing knowledge within a group; the boy’s lies not only made him an unreliable source of information, but threatened the integrity of the information passed around the group as a whole, and as a result, the boy was cast out through a refusal to believe his cries for help. J’s statement that the boy found lying funny also suggests that finding humor in serious situations or not taking things seriously is frowned upon in her family and society.

Brer rabbit and tar baby

Text (folktale): 

“The story has three characters. The brer rabbit, brer fox, and tar baby. It tells the moral story of how resourcefulness can allow you to reach your goals.”

Context: 

My informant heard this story growing up as a child in Louisiana. It is an African-American folktale related to and a variation of the “Tortoise and the Hare” tale.

A: “This is the story of a sly fox and clever rabbit. The sly fox makes a tar baby figure, lays it in the path of bre’r rabbit, and hides behind a nearby bush. When the rabbit comes walking down the trail it gets stuck to the tar and can’t get free. The bre’r fox walks from behind the bush to see the effect of the trap he set, taunt, and contemplate how he wanted to kill bre’r rabbit. Bre’r rabbit begs and pleads to brer fox to do anything but throw him in the nearby briar patch. Bre’r fox hears this and decides to do exactly that. What he doesn’t know is that rabbits are brought up in dense thickets so he is accustomed to it and shouts “I was bred in a briar patch”. Being thrown in the briar patch ultimately allows him to escape from bre’r fox who is shocked and can’t really believe what had just happened.”

Q: “What do the names bre’r and tar baby mean or come from?”

A: “Bre’r is used a lot in African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) as another way to say brother or like acquaintance. In its original context, tar baby just represented a sticky situation that was harder to get out of the more you struggled but in other contexts it was interpreted as having negative racial connotations. In this story though, it refers to a black doll made of tar with a straw hat.”

Q: “Where did you hear this story?”

A: “Well these characters were part of James Harris’ “Uncle Remus” stories from the late 80s and my grandpa would read the stories to me and my siblings growing up. They would try to get across lessons like the the importance of community and resourcefulness, and the dangers of pride.”

Analysis:

This text is a folk tale or fable in my interpretation, specifically, a trickster tale. It is a variation of the commonly know fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” where the hare is over confident in his speed and takes a nap during the race meanwhile the tortoise takes its time moving steadily and wins the race. The rabbit and tar baby variation is more commonly heard in African American communities and is representative of the African American experience during times of slavery. The tar baby is a metaphor for the exploitation of African Americans by slave owners and the institution of slavery as a whole. It is a mild retelling for children of the “sticky situation” showing how it can be overcome through resourcefulness and intelligence. The brer rabbit symbolizes that ingenuity and resourcefulness of enslaved people as they used their creativity and astuteness to withstand and survive their oppressors. The fable is a form of trickster tales as the brer rabbit takes the role of the trickster as well as the fox. As Carroll describes, the trickster term is illustrative of a clever hero in a tale who uses their cunning ability and wits to achieve their end goal. The brer fox, the trickster “villain” of the variations of the brer rabbit and tar baby tale, is representative of a trickster who uses their sly nature to deceive others for their own personal gain often resulting in his own loss. In the variation from “The Tortoise and the Hare” tale, the moral of the story also adapts and is reflective of the cultural context from which it may have originated. As bre’r is a term stemming from AAVE, it implies a sense of African-American brotherhood making it clear the context and origin of the characters and story.

Children’s tales – Bird who poops gold

Story:

Once upon a time there was a magical bird who lived in the mountains. Every time her droppings fell to the ground, they turned into gold. A hunter was passing by and he noticed these droppings, and he wanted the gold for himself so he could be rich. He set a trap for the bird in the tree. The bird did not notice the trap. She was caught and was upset with herself for being careless.

The hunter walked away with the bird, thinking he could sell the gold droppings and get rich. But the next day, he got scared. He thought that if he becomes rich so suddenly, people will get suspicious and accuse him of all kinds of things. So the hunter decided he would give the bird to the king as a gift. The hunter went to the palace and told the king how the bird pooped gold. The king’s ministers did not believe the hunter and made fun of him. The king punished the hunter for lying and ordered the bird to be set free. The bird flew away and sat on the gates of the palace. That’s when the ministers saw the bird’s gold droppings. They realized the hunter was telling the truth. The ministers sent many hunters all over the kingdom to capture this bird. No one was successful. The magical bird had learnt her lesson and was always careful.

Context:

JG is 59 years old and my mother. She grew up in India with a very religious Hindu family, before immigrating to the USA. She passed down this story to me when I was a child. She had heard it from her parents as well. Though not a religious folktale, the story of the bird is often told to children in India, to reinforce morals at an early age.

Analysis:

This story somewhat echoes ancient Indian history – putting a heavy emphasis on hunting in the mountains and the woods, as well as featuring an interaction between a civilian and royals. It shows how India’s days as a monarchy affect its culture today. Furthermore, it instills morals important to Indian culture in young children, teaching audiences not to steal or be greedy. It teaches children that if you take what does not belong to you, it will never stay with you. Plus, through the bird’s perspective, a second moral of the story is to think through things and be aware of your surroundings. These universal themes make the story resonate. The fact that this fable is on the lengthier side, yet its plot is compelling and keeps you wondering what’s happening next, makes it a great one to pass down from generation to generation.

The Banned Words

Text:
从前有一位国王,他在一次事故中摔断了腿。他走路得样子非常滑稽,人们因为他走路样子而发笑,经常私下嘲笑他怪异的走路方式。为了避免被嘲笑,国王发布了一项皇家法令,禁止使用“腿”或“跛行”等词。起初,人们对这一奇怪的法令感到困惑,但很快他们找到新的词语来嘲笑国王。当国王禁用了一些词语,人们就找到同音字来绕过禁令。 国王变得越来越偏执,他认为每个人都在背后谈论他。所以他禁用了越来越多的字词,直到人们的日常交流都受到了阻碍。王国陷入了深深的沉默,但即使在一片沉默中,国王感觉被嘲笑了,因为沉默成为了每一个他禁用的词。


Translation:
Once upon a time, a king broke his leg in an accident. He walks in a funny way, and people laugh at him because of his way of walking. They often secretly mocked his strange way of walking. To avoid being ridiculed, the king issued a law prohibiting the use of words such as “leg” or “limp.” At first, people were puzzled by this strange law, but soon they found new words to make fun of the king. When the king banned some words, people substituted them with homophonic words. The king became increasingly angry, believing everyone was talking about him behind his back. So he banned more and more words until people could barely speak. The kingdom fell into a deep silence, but even in the silence, the king felt teased because silence became the words he banned.

Context: The informant read this story online when people were discussing the banned words on the website in a forum. The website bans bad words and substitutes them with the “*” sign, but people find homophonic characters to get around the censorship. Because some of the homophonic words are used daily, they influence people’s daily life, and many of the homophonic words become bad words. Thus, some people questioned the act of using homophonic characters to express bad meanings, and someone wrote this story to reflect the negative aspects of online censorship and how it affects people’s daily life.

Analysis: This story reflects the value of free speech and the negative consequences of censorship on the Chinese internet. The king’s ban on words led people to seek alternative ways to express themselves. This story is a modern fable as many societies struggle with issues of censorship and control over speech and expression. The use of homophonic characters in online communication to bypass censorship is a common phenomenon on the Chinese internet, as Chinese is a language that has a lot of homophonic characters and words. This story reflects the issue of censorship and serves as a cautionary tale about the unintended consequences of censorship.