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[Detail] Fishermen. Key West, Florida

Morality Tales

Morality tales are a type of folktale common to all cultures. In morality tales, bad behavior has negative consequences and good behavior has positive consequences; thus, the tales convey moral lessons that one generation passed on to another.

"The Girl Who Didn't Mind Her Mother" is a folktale told to Clara White by her mother, Eartha, who was raised in slavery on Amelia Island, Fernandina, Florida. "Ughniyah li al-Atfal" (Lebanese Lullaby) was recorded in Arabic and accompanied by a textual transcription in English. The lullaby was based on a fourteenth-century historical incident in Lebanon, in which a young girl who failed to take her parents' advice about avoiding strangers was kidnapped and enslaved.

  • What do these two morality stories reflecting different cultures have in common?
  • What "moral" were these stories intended to convey? Do you think morality tales are a good way to teach children how to behave? Why or why not?
  • What are some similar stories that parents today use to teach their children?

Many morality tales, like the famous Aesop's Fables, use animals who talk and act like humans as their characters. "The Fox," a folk song from the Bahamas, relates the story of an old fox that craved a farmer's chickens and the bitter lesson he learned from the farmer and Tallow the dog. FWP fieldworkers recorded the song, and a textual transcription is provided.

  • What is the moral of the story?
  • Can you think of similar stories from other cultures?