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A moral is the meaning or message conveyed through a story.

The moral is the meaning that the author wants the reader to walk away with. They can be found in every type of literature, from poetry to fiction and non-fiction prose. Usually, the moral is not stated clearly. It’s often something that has to be interpreted by the reader or something that’s conveyed clearly through the actions of the characters but not spelled out. When it is stated directly, as happens in some stories, it might come in the form of a proverb and is usually in children’s literature.

Moral pronunciation: mor-uhl

Moral definition and meaning


Definition and Explanation of Moral 

A moral is a universal aspect of fiction. It’s something that applies to the lives of everyone reading the literary work. It should instruct, inform, or improve the reader in some way, if it is taken in stride. It dates back to classical literature in which the chorus of a drama would comment on the actions of a play’s characters and define the moral for the audience. 

It’s in children’s literature that readers will find the most obvious morals. They are usually stated directly in order to ensure the young reader doesn’t miss it. 


Common Morals 

  • Always tell the truth. 
  • Do not cheat. 
  • Do not judge. 
  • Have integrity 
  • Have respect for yourself and others. 
  • Be tolerant of differences. 


Examples of Morals in Literature

Aesop’s Fables 

Aesop’s fables are a popular series of stories written with young readers in mind. Most of these fables have a strong moral center, revealed by the end of the story. They provide children with positive messages that are meant to inspire them to grow into well-rounded, kind, and thoughtful people. Fables like The Fox and the Grapes, The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, The Lion and the Mouse, and The Gnat and the Bull provide moral lessons such as: 

  • Treats others as you’d like to be treated. 
  • Don’t judge people by the way they look.
  • Slow and steady wins the race.
  • Work hard and play hard.
  • There is always a way. 

One of the most popular of Aesop’s fables is The Tortoise and the Hare. In this story, the writer describes a very slow tortoise and an arrogant hare. The hare, who is known for his speed and ego, is challenged to a race by the tortoise. The hare quickly speeds off, leaving the tortoise in his wake. But, true to the hare’s personality, he decides he’s so far ahead he can take the time to stop and nap halfway along the determined path. While sleeping, the tortoise passes him and finishes the race while he’s asleep. Young readers can take several different morals from this story, the first and most obvious being that those who move slow and steady will “win the race.” Other possibilities include the importance of never giving up and the importance of never letting one’s ego get out of control 


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee tells the story of a southern American town through the perspective of a young girl, Scout. She narrates the story of a black man who was accused of abusing a white woman. Her father defends him in court and illuminates one of the most important morals in the novel: that one shouldn’t judge another based on their outward appearance. He also speaks to Scout about the importance of walking a mile in another’s shoes and understanding their life from a personal perspective. 


Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare crafts an important moral about the power of love and how it can overcome hatred. It’s not until the two lovers die at the end of the story that their families are finally able to stop fighting and realize the pointlessness of their feud. 

Read William Shakespeare’s poetry.


Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlow

Marlow’s famed Dr. Faustus, concludes with a harrowing soliloquy from the title character. He’s fallen from his previous position and his decision to sell his soul to the devil results in an unavoidable moral. One should maintain their faith and inner morality in the face of all forms of strife. His choice to turn to Lucifer is one that he’s mourning and suffering in his last moments. 

Read poetry by Christopher Marlow.


Moral or Theme? 

A theme is the central idea of a literary work that is seen throughout the story. It might be related to nature, relationships, and a wide variety of experiences. In contrast, a theme is a message that the author wants the reader to leave the work having taken in. Morals, as seen above, are instructional in some way. They’re meant to help readers learn a lesson about life. 


Why Do Writers Use Morals? 

Writers use morals in their stories, poems, plays, and novels in order to impart meaning to the reader. The specific meaning can vary, but readers or audience members should walk away feeling as though they’ve learned something. That is if they’ve been able to interpret the moral of a story. It is not necessary for a story to include a clear and defined moral. The writer might have other intentions. But, if a story does have one, it’s possible to create a deeper connection between the reader/viewer, the wrier, and the characters since morals apply universally to all people throughout time. In this same way, readers of a work of fiction from many centuries ago should still be able to relate to the morals the author included. 


Related Literary Terms


Other Resources 

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