Why do we tell stories?

Why do we intend to tell stories? What is the esoteric reason? Well, stories are a greater image of an abstract concept than a person would generally imagine. Stories are not limited to define the literary handiwork of books or novels or the like. Every verbal action, be it an excuse for being late at work or a published discourse on a very serious subject, is definitely marked by the domain of what a story is. It seems prudent that without stories, our powerful society and culture would be non-existent in the absence of the invention of stories. They are a godsend, indeed. In this essay, further details on this fine motif are asserted herein.

Starting off by rummaging through a literal classic, Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, we would undoubtedly observe how characters weave out emotions, relations and perform certain actions which result in circumstances and situations affecting their lives by massive magnitudes. One of the stories in this book, entitled ‘A Temporary Matter’, narrates the subtle tale of Shukumar and Shoba. Lahiri exhibits the characters’ background histories, their personalities, and the possible future, allowing readers to examine the current situation imposed on the couple. In the end, both characters reveal a shocking fragment of their intentions. This emotive story is an example which demonstrates the feelings of guilt, hope, nostalgia, and betrayal. Thus, stories enable us to taste what the characters feel without having to feel them in reality.


Some stories are anecdotes, which are largely based on a person’s own thoughts and experiences. Stories offer a sort of ‘laboratory’ for experimentation with human thoughts and emotions. Writers craft and fuse up their creations whilst readers readily absorb and render them out. Stories impact our lives by allowing us to engage whole lifetimes, timescapes, and worlds and not just as a means of entertainment, but to explore the nature of the world in which we live. This indicates a first reason to why we tell stories and the importance associated with them.

Now, when we compare the true strength of stories versus physical objects and properties, history itself provides the evidence that the durability of literature, especially stories, would be the victor. Stone may crumble, metal corrodes, structures collapse, people die – stories remain. Either remembered by the art of spoken word or preserved in textual print. Stories of historic rulers, battles, and stories of people in particular, have retained their nearly exact details whereas whole civilizations have gone extinct save for their tales and remnants. So it is evident that stories deserve the universal priority they hold.


Mankind, by nature, has a habit of telling stories. It is one of our fundamental means of survival. Stories bring information. Stories advise our actions. Stories are how we communicate with one another accordingly. Stories are vitally a means of expressing ourselves. A quote by Ursula LeGuin states that a central function of language is narrative itself. She says that, in society, narrative has its foundational application of the general functioning mind. And to be able to speak is equivalent to be able to tell stories. Many of our human traits or activities and culture would not have been possible without stories. Stories are how we perceive each other’s internal thoughts and how we judge and make decisions based on them.

At closer observation and a change of perspective, stories are “all we are” as Thomas King would indeed begin his lectures with. Every field of study or principle is a story of its own accord. A course on Biology would mean researching on the story of how living things evolve. Physics lessons are based on stories known by scientists of how things work, how they behave, and what they really are. Business is a game of tackling economical ‘stories’ of what brought others a lot of profit. Stories are everywhere!

What we call traditions are entirely stories of habits of our ancestors. And in some interesting cases, we recall incidents from the pasts whenever we utter out dialogues belonging to people in the past. One such example arises whenever anyone says “A little more gravy on my roast beef please” as it relates to A bloody day on the English coast in 1066. Stories can be compressed into pocket-sized versions of a glimpse of history.


Essentially, stories sometimes hoist up a ‘life’ of their own. We, as the original gods of stories, are the ones who give birth to, raise, and demolish stories. New stories are born from thin air, right from our ideas and pieces of collected consciousness. Older stories are mended and changed, much like the way we adopt new theories when older theories are turned down to be obsolete. Greek mythologies had once brought meaning to constellations, later to be defeated by a stronger story declared by science. In this aspect, stories are entities much like us. Humans and stories live on symbiotically, in a metaphorical sense.

Finally, it is worth noting a renowned statement from J. Edward Chamberlin’s If This is Your Land Then Where Are Your Stories? which, by coincidence, has the quote engraved into the title itself. Stories can be used as an instrument of proving logic or evidence likewise. It is the art of telling stories which distinguishes a person from any other. Telling stories are what we all are good at. Stories are the supreme tokens that compose human experience.


Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of Maladies: Stories. Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019.

King, Thomas. The Truth about Stories a Native Narrative; 2003 Massey Lecture. CBC Audio, 2003.

Finley, Robert. “Week 1: Introduction - Stories.” English 1090. Critical Reading and Writing: Telling Stories, Memorial University, 2018, online.mun.ca/d2l/le/content/367977/viewContent/3422517/View.

Chamberlin, J. Edward. If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories?: Reimagining Home and Sacred Space. Pilgrim Press, 2004.