Fairy tales are rarely simply fairy tales. A good portion of them have little lessons written into them. In some cases, these lessons appear to be largely intentional. In other cases, it’s hard to guess the true intentions of the original writers.
Fairy tales are often part of a culture’s oral tradition. They were designed to be spoken aloud, and that means that the nature of the plot, the characters, and the themes must be conducive to being recited in the first place. If you’ve ever tried to read a complicated novel aloud to a lot of people, you know that it’s a difficult way for anyone to experience a novel. A fairy tale is something that was intended to be received and remembered in this way, and that will have an effect on the nature of the lessons embedded in these tales.
A lot of fairy tales are about the danger of the forbidden. Many of them involve naive and overly trusting characters who ended up falling victim to the wrong person. Fairy tales tend to be from more conservative cultures. Conservatives often have a pronounced fear of that which is unknown, and the stories that they write tend to reflect that fear.
Many fairy tales stress the importance of family, especially biological family, in one way or another. The fact that fairy tales tend to privilege biological mothers over stepmothers is a classic example of this tendency in action. Some fairy tales have a religious bent, at least subtly, trying to encourage the power of belief. Many fairly tales emphasize ‘virtuous’ behavior in women and ‘strong’ behavior in men, with male heroes and female victims.
However, fairy tales are ultimately very diverse. In a lot of cases, they will ultimately reflect the values of the cultures in which they were created. This means that a lot of fairy tales will vary from one culture to another, even if there are some archetypes that will seem to unite them.
It is true that fairy tales across cultures have a tendency to be conservative. These tales were written for the mainstream, which means that they will tend to reflect what seemed normal to the audience. If this is a historical audience we’re talking about, that means that their mainstream is conservative by the standards of today. However, fairy tales are still capable of evoking the sorts of powerful emotions that are truly universal, regardless of your political bent. The messages are typically subtle enough that people can be subtly influenced by them, or they can dismiss them altogether. Either way, these stories have survived for centuries for a reason.