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A Fable, or A Short, Moralizing Story about Animals

April 30, 2009

by The Forum
A Fable, or A Short, Moralizing Story about Animals

Once upon a time there were a number of animals in a setting appropriate to the species of the animals present. One animal, the Exemplary Animal, embodied a set of characteristics and predilections deemed favorable by the Author, but this fact was not revealed by the Narrator, who for artistic and stylistic purposes had a separate point of view and voice altogether. Another animal, the Admonitory Animal, embodied a set of characteristics and predilections deemed by the Author to be dangerous, countercultural, and subversive; but this fact was also excluded from the fable’s introduction by the Narrator. There were also several other animals who were symbolically unimportant, and who merely served as a means of advancing the fable’s plot. At a certain point, the symbolically unimportant but nonetheless plot advancing animals acted so as to give rise to a particular situation. The situation required action on the part of both the Exemplary and Admonitory Animals, but their respective courses were unclear. The stubbornly moralizing Author prompted the Narrator to go to great pains in describing the situation such that it would be apparent that it mirrored a common human situation familiar to the fable’s audience, albeit oversimplified due to a desire on the part of the Author for universal applicability and some general constraints upon short moralizing stories about animals to deal with complexity without becoming arduously long and muddling the all-important clarity of their symbols.

After consideration, the Exemplary Animal responded to the situation in a way consistent with the traits the Author wished to promote in his fable, and was rewarded accordingly: specifically, in a way suggestive of the idea that audience members who act similarly in corresponding situations might also be rewarded thusly. The Admonitory Animal responded in a way that was not necessarily opposite, but was nonetheless consistent with traits the Author did not look as favorably upon. As such, the Admonitory Animal faced repercussions sufficiently harmful and relevant to his actions so as to communicate to the audience that the actions caused the repercussions and that the repercussions were undesirable.

At the conclusion of the fable, the Narrator—acting in a capacity not envisioned, endorsed, nor fully understood by the Author—drew attention to the contrived simplicity of the situation, the unreasonable lack of emotional complexity in the characters, and the arbitrary nature of a medium in which an author (though not necessarily this one) can stipulate the results of actions when the opposite results are perhaps equally likely, thereby calling into question the very relevance of short moralizing stories about animals as a meaningful way of communicating moral truths.

In an attempt to regain control over the content of his work, the Author revealed a brief, easy-to-remember summation of the lesson he’d hoped his fable to teach, but, inexplicably, it rang somewhat empty. The Narrator wondered if this could be construed as a statement about the intimidating difficulty of genuine moral philosophy, but decided it was best not to read too much into it.

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