Bedford/St. Martin's virtuaLit Interactive Fiction Tutorial Notebook VIEW SEND
Fiction in Depth Approaches and Contexts
Select a StoryElements of FictionCultural ContextsCritical Approaches
Point of View
Style, Tone, and Language
Symbolism, Allegory, and Image


The Hare and the Tortoise

One day the speedy hare was bragging among his fellow animals. “I have never been beaten in a race,” he said. “When I use my amazing speed, the race is over almost instantly. Would any of you like to take me on?”

“I’ll challenge you,” said the tortoise.

You against me?” said the hare, laughing. He turned to the other animals. “Hurry. Set us up a course. This will be quick work for me. I’ll teach this plodder a lesson in speed.”

The animals set up a course, and the race began. The fast hare sped so far ahead that he looked back and couldn’t even see the tortoise. To show his contempt, he decided to lie down and rest, and he soon fell asleep. Meanwhile, the tortoise kept going at a slow, steady pace. He finally crawled past the sleeping hare, and took the lead. In fact, the tortoise was just inches short of the finish line when the hare woke up and saw what had happened. The stunned hare sped to the finish line, but he couldn’t catch up, and the tortoise won.

“Slow and steady wins the race,” said the smiling tortoise.

In this well-known fable of Aesop, the final lesson emanating from the smiling tortoise is somewhat evident. This “moral to the story” is a good way to begin understanding the concept of theme. Although the theme in a short story or novel is almost never stated this explicitly, most works of fiction do teach us lessons. A story is typically a series of events in which a character resolves an important problem or conflict, often in a life-changing way, and typically such breakthroughs can reveal important guidelines about life. We might learn, for example, that it is important to take risks, or that wealth doesn’t bring happiness, or that a little bit of hope and persistence can change a bad situation. Not all events teach lessons, but the ones that do often make good stories.

Now read this modification of Aesop’s fable written by American writer Ambrose Bierce (1842–1914?).

The Hare and the Tortoise

A Hare, having ridiculed the slow movements of a Tortoise, was challenged by the latter to run a race, a Fox to go to the goal and be the judge. They got off well together, the Hare at the top of her speed, the Tortoise, who had no other intention than making his antagonist exert herself, going very leisurely. After sauntering along for some time he discovered the Hare by the wayside, apparently asleep, and seeing a chance to win pushed on as fast as he could, arriving at the goal hours afterward, suffering from extreme fatigue and claiming the victory.

“Not so,” said the Fox; “the Hare was here long ago, and went back to cheer you on your way.”

What theme does this modified version of the fable provide? How does it differ from the theme of the original?

Is the theme as explicit and clear as it is in the original version of the tale? Why or why not?

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