The moral of a story is a lesson that is taught within the context of a tale, often using an analogy. In general, stories with morals are found in children's literature or, for adults, inspirational and motivational tales.

The most famous morality tales are Aesop's Fables, a collection of very short children's stories teaching moral lessons that are explicitly stated at the end in a maxim. Many of Aesop's maxims have passed into common usage, such as "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."

In adult literature, it's more common to find parables teaching morals. While fables use animals with human-like characteristics and inanimate objects as their story actors, parables exclude anthropomorphized characters. This is a relatively recent distinction, and many older parables do not follow this rule.

A useful method for identifying morals or themes in literature is to create a T-chart with two columns, one for summarizing the key events of a story and the other for picking out these events' underlying message.

It is not always possible to find a full sentence or quote in a story that neatly encapsulates a central theme. While characters' actions, observations and dialogue are often used to express the moral, sometimes its representation is far more subtle, recognizable only by virtue of it being universal. Ideas like coming of age, humans versus technology and conflict with society are all cross-culturally relevant.

Some examples of central themes in popular culture include the following:

  • Responsibility in "The Lion King"
  • Greed in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"
  • Family in Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle"
  • Appreciation in Mariah Carey's "Hero"
  • Farewells in Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)"