Papa Don't Preach, I'd Rather Hear a Story.
What makes a story worth retelling? How many fairy tales and parables have only lasted one generation? What keeps a narrative alive, and how do people decide which protagonists live on to entertain, lecture, and preach for centuries after the original was written?
"To study a work of literature in historical and cultural perspective is to determine the degree to which the work belongs in, and perhaps transcends, its period" (132).
Most every well known parable, fable, myth, poem, and novel include symbolism or allegorical statements commenting on religion, politics, social situations, or morality -- some are blatantly obvious while others are so ingrained in our minds from childhood that we never even realize it.
Let's take a look at a few examples, the first is Little Red Riding hood. Before the young girl heads out of the house alone, her mother warns her to stay on the path and go directly to grandma's house. We all know how the story goes -- little girl stays, meets big, bad wolf, and as a result she and grandma almost die. On a simple note, the tale warns children to listen to their parents and never stray into the woods. If one were to look further into the moral and possible religious aspects of the story, it is clear that Red's wise mother is telling her to stay on the well-lite path -- the road to righteousness. Straying will only lead to temptation, sin, and possible death.
Charles Dicken's The Christmas Carol is an allegory on morality and possibly Christian religious beliefs. Although, if the time of year is changed (as the class suggested) Muslims preach giving alms to the needy as one of the five pillars, so I suppose A Christmas Carol could be renamed and considered a religious allegory to several different religious faiths.
Gulliver's Travels is an example of a political and social allegory written because "The threat of censorship and the danger of political or economic reprisal have often caused authors to express their views indirectly in the form of allegory rather than to name names and write openly, thereby risking political prosecution, accusations of libel, or even bodily harm" (152). Swift's satire and wit ridiculed wars, leaders, and religious fanaticism.
Dr. Suess has underlying political statements, while The Wizard of Oz warns people to be grateful for what they have. So, why exactly are all of our favorite stories pumped up with lectures, political stances, and morals? The answer is easy -- because nobody wants to listen to political speeches and moral lectures! Parables and allegories explain possible consequences to undesirable behavior in a fun, memorable, less preachy form. It's like the difference between telling a kid to choose between watching their favorite movie or going to church. Which do you think they would choose?
These stories become a part of our lives and are passed down to new generations because the stories have something to say to the reader. The clock in Edgar Allen Poe's The Masque of the Red Death illustrates a common symbol that explains how short life is; once the minutes tick away, they are never coming back. Sparkly red heels remind us of the joys of going home to Aunty Em, and the ghost of Christmas future reminds us to not be greedy. Great stories connect people. Not only do they help us understand the world around us, but they give us all something in common and they help us to understand each other better.