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A story within a story is a literary device in which one character within a narrative narrates.Mise en abyme is the French term for a similar literary device (also referring to the practice in heraldry of placing the image of a small shield on a larger shield). A story within a story can be used in all types of narration: novels, short stories, plays, television programs, films, poems, songs, and philosophical essays.
The inner stories are told either simply to entertain or more usually to act as an example to the other characters. In either case the story often has symbolic and psychological significance for the characters in the outer story. There is often some parallel between the two stories, and the fiction of the inner story is used to reveal the truth in the outer story.
The literary device of stories within a story dates back to a device known as a frame story, when the outer story does not have much matter, and most of the bulk of the work consists of one or more complete stories told by one or more storytellers. This concept can be found in ancient Indian literature, such as the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana, Vishnu Sarma's Panchatantra, Syntipas' Seven Wise Masters, the Hitopadesha, and Vikram and the Vampire. Another early example of stories within a story can be found in the One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights), which can be traced back to Arabic, Persian, and Indian storytelling traditions. Homer's Odyssey too makes use of this device; Odysseus' adventures at sea are all narrated by Odysseus to the court of king Alcinous in Scheria. Other shorter tales, many of them false, account for much of the Odyssey.
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