Similar to a fable, an apologue tries to argue for a central message using rhetoric and exaggerated description. However, unlike a fable, the central message in an apologue has more importance than the actual story itself. Writers usually use this form to indirectly espouse a moral or basic idea
Samuel Johnson constructed “Rasselas” as an apologue about happiness. In the story, the young prince begins in the valley of happiness, a place that seems like paradise to most readers. However, this oasis does not content Rasselas and he ventures out in search of happiness. The modes of life he experiences in his quest outline a moral path for the reader. Each failed occupation or existence teaches the audience a lesson about the nature of happiness. In the end, the characters do not reach their goal. In this way, the story of Rasselas acts as an apologue about happiness.
This work exemplifies the neoclassical model of literature. As an apologue, it uses rhetoric to prove a central idea to the audience. Most other neoclassical works had this same goal in mind. From Dryden to Swift, writers in this time period used rhetoric to convince others of their ideas. However, this concept lost popularity with the Romantic writers. This new generation of poets did not create apologues because they did not have the same goals as the neoclassical generation. In the context of this literary history, an apologue acts as an indicator of a neoclassical work.