The Short Story in English

By Henry Seidel Canby | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
STORIES TOLD FOR INSTRUCTION MAINLY

NARRATIVE has served in the cause of instruction at least as long as the art of teaching by example has been known to humanity, and that takes us back to an antiquity only exceeded by the age of the popular story. Indeed, the impulse to use stories for didactic purposes has been so marked and the process so successful, that reflective, story-telling races have developed and constantly employed definite kinds of narrative, molded and told expressly for the conveyance of a lesson in concrete form. The fable is one such story; the apologue another, differing from the fable in so far as it is told of men instead of beasts, but not at all in its narrative qualities, which are contrived so as to suggest a truth of human nature by means of a characteristic happening conveyed in a memorable plot. But no one of the intellectual movements which, from time to time, enlisted narrative in their service, was content to use only the rare and excellent reflective tales, whose cogent plot of itself pointed the moral. Many literatures, and particularly the two great ethical religions, Buddhism and Christianity, pressed into service every kind of story which might serve, under compulsion, to drive home a lesson, and not only obviously reflective stories but also fairy tales, contes dévots, fabliaux, novellas, even bits of romance and of history were made to do

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