What Is a Moral Tale?

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A moral or morality tale is a type of story, popular during the 15th and 16th centuries, that uses allegory to portray the struggle between good and evil, often culminating in a lesson. Typically, morality tales featured personifications or avatars of vices and virtues.

Moral tales are classified as a form of didactic literature, which emphasizes the need to combine entertainment with information and instruction. Morality plays bridged the gap between Christian mystery plays and secular Renaissance theater. Moral tales aimed at children were abundant, but the latter half of the 19th century saw some of the most celebrated works of children’s literature published, including “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and the Narnia series. Moral tales largely fell out of fashion and were replaced by fantasy stories that exalt children’s capacity for joy and imagination. These novels portray children as pure and innocent beings, a sharp contrast with the evangelical belief that even children are not exempt from sinful natures.

However, some scholars have argued that these fantasy stories are a form of moral tale as well, albeit a subtler version. Both traditional moral tales and classic fantasy children’s literature seek to impart crucial lessons to young readers and portray the search for an ideal world.