Didactic Stories: Short Stories that Teach a Lesson or Have a Moral

didactic short stories
Short Stories that Teach a Lesson

This page contains didactic stories that teach a lesson or have a moral. Some of the stories are fables, which are usually short tales with non-human characters that illustrate a moral, sometimes stating the lesson directly at the story’s end. Other stories are parables, which typically have human characters and illustrate a moral or lesson. If you want more stories of this type, there’s a separate page for Allegories & Fables. For other stories where characters learn something about life, see Epiphanies/Discovery.

Short Stories that Teach a Lesson

“The Treasure of Lemon Brown” by Walter Dean Myers

Greg Ridley is a fourteen-year-old student in danger of failing math. His father tells him he can’t play basketball anymore. While out walking one night, Greg takes refuge in an abandoned tenement building. He finds a local homeless man there, Lemon Brown. (Summary & Analysis)

Read here

Joy | Anton Chekhov

Mitya gets home at midnight, agitated and disheveled but also very happy. He wakes his parents and younger siblings. He has incredible news—he’s going to be known all over Russia.

“Joy” is the first story in the Amazon preview of Fifty-Two Stories.

“Thank You, Ma’am” by Langston Hughes

Mrs. Luella Jones, a large woman with a large purse, is walking home late at night in Harlem. A boy rushes up behind her and tries to grab her purse, but the strap breaks and he falls down. Mrs. Jones grabs the boy and brings him to her apartment. (Summary & Analysis)

Read “Thank You, Ma’am”

“Hailey’s Shooting Star” by Steven Carman

Hailey’s visiting her aunt and uncle at their new house. She goes down the street to a basketball hoop that a neighbor let’s everyone use. Two boys arrive soon after. They say girls can’t play there, especially girls with one hand.

This story can be read in the preview of Tales from the Bully Box. (45% in)

The Zebra Storyteller | Spencer Holst

A Siamese cat learns to speak to Zebras, taking advantage of the shock of it to tie them up and kill them. (Summary)

This fable illustrates the function of the storyteller. It can be read in the preview of The Language of Cats and Other Stories.

Before the Law | Franz Kafka

A man tries to gain access to the law. He waits for years, but the doorkeeper prevents him from entering. The man tries various bribes to gain entry.

This parable could illustrate the futility of searching for meaning in life, or the indifference of the universe to humans.

This story can be read in the preview of The Complete Stories.

“The Happiness Machine” by Ray Bradbury

Leo Auffmann is in his garage full of supplies and tools wondering where he should start. He’s decided to build a Happiness Machine. He works for ten straight days on it. He goes into his house, announces that it’s finished, and collapses into sleep. (Summary)

“The Emperor’s New Clothes (Suit)” by Hans Christian Andersen

An emperor loves nice clothes and spends all his money on them. He ignores his real duties. Two men say they know how to weave the most beautiful cloth that can only be seen by people who are smart and good at their jobs. The emperor pays them a huge sum of money to make him some clothes.

This story can be read in the preview of The Complete Stories and Fairytales.

“The Egg” by Andy Weir

You’re killed in a car accident on your way home. You’re concerned about the family you’re leaving behind, which the narrator tells you is what he likes to see. It turns out you’re going to be reincarnated. (Summary & Analysis)

Read “The Egg”

Didactic Stories, Cont’d

“Why Reeds Are Hollow” by Gabriela Mistral

The reeds started a revolution in the plant world—all plants should be the same height. A few objections are ignored and the wind carries the message everywhere. (Summary)

The Ambitious Guest | Nathaniel Hawthorne

A family is relaxing around the hearth. They live in a cottage by a mountain. They sometimes hear minor rock slides, but they have a safe spot nearby in case it’s more serious. A young traveler who’s passing through joins the family. He has big plans to make a name for himself. The family speaks on some of their more modest ambitions.

This is the eighth story in the preview of Classic Short Stories.

“Fox 8” by George Saunders

A fox learns human language by listening in on bedtime stories. A building project threatens the group’s habitat. (Summary)

The Appointment in Samarra | W. Somerset Maugham

A servant meets Death in a Bagdad marketplace and flees from him.

This parable shows it’s impossible to avoid death.

Read “The Appointment in Samarra”

The Unicorn in the Garden | James Thurber

A man sees a unicorn in his garden eating flowers. He tells his wife but she dismisses it.

This story contrasts fantasy and reality.

Read “The Unicorn in the Garden”

Menagerie, a Child’s Fable | Charles Johnson

When the owner of a pet store doesn’t come in for a few days, the animals get out of their cages and try to survive and govern themselves.

Despite the title, this story is written for the adult reader. It deals with the oppression, racism, fascism, and war in the world.

Read “Menagerie”

The Travelers and the Plane Tree | Aesop

Two travelers rest under a plane tree and complain about how useless it is.

The lesson of this fable is that there’s good in everything, or to appreciate small blessings.

Read “The Travelers and the Plane Tree”

The Minister’s Black Veil: A Parable | Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Reverend of a small church turns up one day for the service with a black veil covering his face. His parishioners are confused and uncomfortable with the change. There is much speculation about the reason for the veil, and they hope it’s just a passing fancy.

The black veil could represent Original Sin, secret sin, or pride.

The Country of the Blind | H. G. Wells

Nunez, a mountain climber and adventurer, falls during a climb and ends up finding a village in a nearby valley. The inhabitants have been blind for generations. Nunez has found the legendary Country of the Blind and, as a sighted man, believes he will rule this people.

This parable shows that the adage “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”, is false.

Read “The Country of the Blind”

The Widow and the Parrot: A True Story | Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Gage is an elderly widow, lame, short-sighted and poor, who gets a letter informing her of her brother’s death. She is to inherit her brother’s possessions and money, so she borrows some money from her minister to make the trip to her brother’s town.

This fable has the moral that kindness to animals will be rewarded.

Read “The Widow and the Parrot”

Didactic Stories, Cont’d

Blemish | John Christopher

A young salesman goes to Swan Upping to sell TV’s. He is told that no one there uses technology of any kind. Meanwhile, the Galactic Ambassador is visiting earth to determine if they can be admitted as a member planet in the Galactic culture.

This parable shows that pride in technology isn’t everything and that simple values shouldn’t be ignored.

The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket | Yasunari Kawabata

The narrator sees a group of children with colorful lanterns looking for singing grasshoppers. They put a lot of effort into making their lanterns and take pride in them. Eventually, a boy, Fujio, finds a grasshopper.

This parable offers a lesson about looking for someone to love— finding someone who is rare like a bell cricket is difficult, and after a heart break even a rare woman will seem common.

Read “The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket”

The Star Beast | Nicholas Stuart Gray

There is a streak of light in the night sky and a loud noise is heard. Soon after, at a farm, a creature shows up, human-like, hurt and afraid. They help it, and it attracts a lot of attention from those nearby.

This parable shows that people are capable of being cruel, arrogant or stupid in their dealings with humans and animals.

The Flying Machine | Ray Bradbury

In ancient China, Emperor Yuan is relaxing when a servant excitedly gives him the news that a man was seen flying with wings. The Emperor enjoys simple things, and this amazing development makes him think about his people’s safety and way of life.

This parable could illustrate resistance to change or a desire to hold on to power.

Read “The Flying Machine”

Tiffany | Stacey Richter

The protagonist is told to divide or die, but she doesn’t want to—she wants to be intact and singular.

This story could be a parable about resisting peer pressure or being yourself.

Read “Tiffany” (Coarse language)

The Other Side of the Hedge | E. M. Forster

A man stops to rest on the side of the road. He is passed by some people, and also thinks of his brother whom he left behind. He notices a small opening in the hedge that lines the road. He pushes his way thru it.

This parable might be encouraging a more relaxed, altruistic, pastoral life over a modern, impersonal life centered around accomplishment.

“The Great Carbuncle” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

A group of eight people rest in the Crystal Hills after an unsuccessful search for the Great Carbuncle. Although they all have their own motives, they cooperate to build a hut and start a fire. The searchers include an elderly man who’s been looking his whole life, a chemist who wants to analyze and write about the Carbuncle, a merchant who wants to sell it, a poet who wants inspiration, a prince who wants it as a family symbol, and young newlyweds who want it as a light in their house.

Read “The Great Carbuncle”

The Red Bow | George Saunders

A young girl is killed by dogs. Some men in the village look for the dogs and shoot them. They turn their attention to other dogs that might also be dangerous. Their enthusiasm for making the village safe gets out of hand.

This could be a parable for the dangers of authoritarianism.

I’ll keep adding didactic stories that teach a lesson or have a moral as I find more.