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An apologue is a short story, sometimes a fable, that shares a moral lesson. For example, kindness is more important than power, or love triumphs over hate.

These stories are usually easily accessible and convey their morals clearly and with little room for interpretation. Often, apologues use animal characters. While the animals are used to draw readers in, it’s the moral they’re acting out that’s the true purpose of the allegory.

Apologue pronunciation: Uh-pah-lohg

Apologue definition and examples

Definition of Apologue

An apologue is a short tale that shares a moral lesson. That is, a story about how one should act in certain situations. If a tale has a “moral,” it has a lesson it wants to share. These are often aimed at young readers, but aren’t exclusively confined to children’s literature. Readers of all ages can take something from the lessons apologues have to share.

Apologues are often compared to fables and allegories in that the messages they share are more important than the characters and contexts they use to do it. When a reader finishes an apologue, they should be far more concerned with the moral they’ve encountered than anything else.

Possible Morals in Apologues

Below are a few of the morals a reader might find when reading apologues :

  • Never judge a book by its cover.
  • Sharing is important.
  • Respect your friends.
  • Everyone has something to learn.
  • Don’t take happiness for granted.
  • Never count your opponent out.
  • Always love your parents.

Examples of Apologues

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Orwell’s Animal Farm is an interesting example of an apologue. It is one that’s certainly not aimed at young readers, but it does fulfill the requirements of the category. It’s written with almost entirely animal characters and uses those characters to tell a story. In the case of Animal Farm, Orwell uses various farm animals to share a message about the Russian Revolution. He sought to portray it as a movement that resulted in a far more oppressive government. One with totalitarian tendencies. Consider this quote from Animal Farm:

Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.

Here, Orwell crafts a philosophy from an animal’s perspective. The characters, especially the pigs, assert their dominance over humankind and then the rest of the farm animals. Then, by setting down a series of rules, they can control those they previously sought to liberate. Here is another quote that demonstrates the oppressive nature of the pig’s reign:

No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?

Napoleon, who rules over the rest of the animals, is well aware of the doublethink needed to control the rest of the farm animals. By using quotes like that seen above, he and his comrades convince the other farm animals that it’s in their best interest for him to be in charge.

Explore George Orwell’s best books.

The Crow and the Pitcher by Aesop

The Crow and the Pitcher is one of Aesop’s fables that can easily be considered an apologue. It follows a thirsty crow who comes upon a pitcher of water that’s taller than his beak can reach. He tries to push it over but fails. Instead, he begins dropping pebbles into the water until it rises, reaching the top. Through the simplicity of this apologue, readers are left with an important moral: Ingenuity is more important than brute strength. Or, using one’s wit and intelligence are more beneficial than forcing one’s way through situations. One might also take another moral from the story, that necessity inspires invention. Through the difficult situation, the crow was able to use his ingenuity to create an interesting solution.

The Bell and the Cat

The Bell and the Cat is also sometimes known as Belling the Cat or The Mice in Council. It has its origins in the Middle Ages, although its sometimes attributed to Aesop. The fable tells the story of a group of mice who want to stop a terrifying threat—a cat. One decides they should put a bell on the cat’s neck but, someone is going to have to take the risk to do so. They all make excuses to get out of the task. The story shares an interesting, if somewhat complex moral. That it’s important to evaluate a plan on its outcome and how it’s going to be put into motion. A plan might seem good until it comes down to actually executing it. Such is the case with The Bell and the Cat.

Why Do Writers Create Apologues?

Writers write these kinds of stories when they want to tell a moral tale. Apologues are usually written with a great deal of wit and clever composing. They’re intentionally put to together so that in the end a reader is left with a better understanding of life and how they might possibly want to live it. Apologues are not always easy to write, nor are original stories easy to come up with. That is why Aesop’s fables and allegorical writings like The Faerie Queene are so popular. They get to the heart of the human experience and share moral tales that should touch all readers in some way.


Why are apologues important?

Apologues are an important form of literature because of their intentions. No matter which animals, settings, pieces of dialogue, or bits of content are used, apologues are written with a moral in mind. It’s this single piece of information that a reader should walk away with.

Are apologues always written for children?

No. Apologues are not exclusively aimed at young readers. Many apologues are found in more complex, adult-oriented literature, with Animal Farm by George Orwell as a prime example. Apologues can be quite complicated in a way that doesn’t benefit young readers.

What is the tone of most apologues?

Most apologues take an informative or explanatory tone. They’re written with the intention of sharing knowledge, or at least a piece of simple wisdom about how best to live one’s life. This means that the tone is usually very direct and simple.

What is a famous apologue?

A famous apologue is The Tortoise and the Hare by Aesop. This story tells the tale of a hare who, in his prideful manner, believes he’s far faster and cleverer than a tortoise. He learns that this isn’t the case, and readers are left with the important moral of: slow and steady wins the race or brains outwit brawn.

Do apologues always include morals?

Yes. Without a moral, a story is not an apologue. This doesn’t mean that all apologues are created equal. Some have morals that are more or less effective, or easier or harder to define. This often depends on whether or not they were written for children.

  • Fable: a short and concise story that provides the reader with a moral lesson at the end.
  • Fairy Tale: short stories that include fanciful and magical elements such as goblins, elves, fairies, and ogres.
  • Folklore: refers to stories that people tell. These include folk stores, fairy tales, urban legends, and more.
  • Moral: the meaning or message conveyed through a story.
  • Allegory: a narrative found in verse and prose in which a character or event is used to speak about a broader theme.
  • Coherence: refers to the properties of well-organized writing. This includes grammar, sentence structure, and plot elements.
  • Context: the setting in which a story, poem, novel, play, or other literary work is situated.

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