Definition of Parable

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A parable (P) is a story in prose or verse that is told to illustrate a (perhaps covert) religious, moral, or philosophical idea.

The word comes from the Greek ðáñáâïëÞ, which was the name given by Greek rhetoricians to any fictive illustration in the form of a brief narrative. Later it came to mean a fictitious narrative or allegory, generally but not always to something that might naturally occur, by which moral or spiritual matters are conveyed.

In particular, the term is applied to the P of Jesus, but could also be like The Pearl by John Steinbeck.

The prototypical P differs from the parable in that it is an inherently probable and realistic story, one taking place in some familiar setting of life. In its brevity and succinctness a P is like a fable; It differs from the fable by excluding animals that assume speech and other powers of humankind, as in Aesop's Fables.

A Hidden Meaning You Help The Audience Discover

In a preface to his translation of Aesop's Fables George Fyler Townsend defined P thus: "The Parable is the designed use of language purposely intended to convey a hidden and secret meaning other than that contained in the words themselves, and which may or may not bear a special reference to the hearer, or reader."

A P is like a metaphor that has been extended to form a brief, coherent fiction. Unlike a simile, its parallel meaning is unspoken, implicit, but not ordinarily secret, though "to speak in parables" has come to suggest obscurity.

Sketching a Mental Story

Parables are the simplest of narratives: they sketch a setting, describe an action and its result; they often involve a character facing a particular moral dilemma, or making a questionable decision and then suffering the consequences of that choice.

Though not every moral narrative is a P, many fairy tales would be viewed as extended parables, except for their magical settings. Though parables often have a strong prescriptive subtext, suggesting how a person should behave or believe, many P simply explore a concept from a neutral point of view. Aside from providing guidance and suggestions for proper action in life, P offer a metaphorical language which allows people to discuss difficult or complex ideas more easily.

Modern Day Use

Recently there has been some interest in the field of contemporary P, exploring how modern stories can be used as P in our current culture. For a mid-19th century contemporary parable, see the P of the broken window that exposes a fallacy in economic thinking.

Spiritual Applications

Parables are strongly favored in the expression of spiritual concepts. The best known specific source of P is the Bible, which contains numerous parable. Besides the familiar parable of Jesus in the New Testament, such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, there are many beautiful examples of P in the Old Testament, for instance the P of the ewe-lamb told by Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:1-9, or that of the woman of Tekoah in 2 Samuel 9:1-13.

Difference from Allegory

Parable and allegory are often treated as synonyms, but are well distinguished by H. W. Fowler, in Modern English Usage. "The object in each" said Fowler, "is to enlighten the hearer by submitting to him a case in which he has apparently no direct concern, and upon which therefore a disinterested judgment may be elicited from him." It then dawns upon the listener or reader that the conclusion applies equally well to his own concerns.

As Fowler distinguished them, P is more condensed than allegory: a single principle comes to bear, and a single moral is deduced.

Medieval Biblical criticism often treated Jesus' P as detailed allegories, with symbolic correspondences found for every element in the brief narratives, but modern critics universally regard these interpretations as inappropriate and untenable.

Like a fable's narration, a P should relate one simple, consistent action without extraneous detail nor distracting circumstances. In Plato's The Republic, P like the shadows in the cave encapsulate an abstract argument into a concrete, more easily grasped narrative. combining intellectual appeal with emotional impact you will be able to add power to your message and increase the persuasiveness of your message.

Speech Writing Section More on speech writing for public speakers. The Public Speaking Parable Website

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