What Is a Modern Parable?

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  • Written By: Mark Wollacott
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2019
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A modern parable is a moralistic tale with a modern setting. Contemporary parables come in the form of written literature, such as poems and stories, and as speeches or sermons. Modern stories can also be presented as films and radio dramas. They can be modernized versions of older stories or they can be completely new tales. Modern parables can be found in many cultures and religions across the world, from the parables of Jesus to ancient Chinese folk tales.

Parables are stories that are designed to teach listeners, readers, or viewers a single, simple moral. The characters tend to be only humans, though normal animals may appear. Any stories featuring deities or mythical/speaking animals are fables. It is important to note that the point the modern parable is trying to make is not opaque, and that by the end of the story, everyone understands what the story was trying to say.

There are two main types of modern parable. The first type is a direct retelling of an ancient parable, but in a more modern setting. The second type is a newly fashioned story that may start with an ancient moral, but creates an entirely new story out of it.


A popular Christian parable that is often refashioned into a modern parable is that of the Good Samaritan. The tale is well known; it features a Samaritan who helps an injured traveler, even though a priest and a Levite do not. The parable worked for an ancient audience because those listeners or readers knew of the animosity between Jews and Samaritans. A modern retelling of the tale could have, for example, a man from a rival gang help an injured gangster, whereas his own gang left him for dead.

The modernization of a parable is an important tool for priests and other religious leaders. They may be used during sermons from the pulpit, during ceremonies, or in religious writings. In such circumstances, the ministers try to understand the congregation's background in order to tailor the story towards them. Many Christian film makers and churches have produced modernized versions of Jesus' parables as independent movies and DVDs.

A wholly created modern parable starts with the moral point. The creator then fleshes out a story with well-rounded characters and a modern setting or context. Creating a new parable is similar to creating an anecdote or a joke. The difference between a parable and a joke is that the parable has a moral ending rather than a punch line; however, the moral ending needs the same timing and impact of a good punch line.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a good example of a modern parable. The central moral is that mankind should not challenge the works and abilities of God. Dr. Frankenstein does exactly that by creating his monster. This parable harks back to stories such as those of Prometheus, who gave fire to mankind, and to Icarus, who made his own wings, but flew too close to the sun. It also has a similar theme to the Tower of Babel, but is told in a wholly new way.

Frankenstein's monster has since spawned a new type of parable: the science parable. As new scientific innovations are made in the world, new parables about the potential problems of such technology are created. Examples of this include The Fly and Splice, but it can be argued that the moral point often becomes secondary to storytelling and entertainment in such movies.


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