The Boy Who Cried Wolf


“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.”


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.”


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.