Fairy tales have been around for centuries and have laid the foundation for many generations by unlocking the imagination of those who listen. They keep the hope and dreams alive within family households and set an example for the expectations of life. The question of whether or not fairy tales address contemporary, controversial issues can be answered by saying that many of our bright, bubbly stories are actually more important to everyone’s childhood in more ways than one. There are many underlying tones within the popular fairy tales that people from around the world can relate to and connect with one another through. “While some may take the stories at face value, for the sole purpose of entertainment, other researchers tell us that these are wise stories infused with meaning and symbols” (Hidden Meanings). Fairy tales address many relevant issues in today’s society by teaching people valuable lessons throughout their childhood, bringing attention to the importance of having hope, and believing in yourself.
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Many lessons that we learn through fairy tales are ones that are not directly stated within the story but are the underlying message that one can pick up on nearing the stories end. “Fairy tales have been around for thousands of years, and thanks to people like The Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, Joseph Jacobs, and Walt Disney, many have survived and thrived through the generations, permeating our culture with important life lessons — or at least lessons that seem to stick” (Shurtliff, Liesl). In Cinderella for instance, we are taught that it is never wrong to ask for help and it shouldn’t be something that we should fear. Being vulnerable and needing assistance from another person in our life is not shameful and can bring about the greatest of gifts to our lives. Little Red Riding Hood teaches us to be aware of our surroundings and to acknowledge the apparent signs of danger when presented to us the first time before it is too late. Society today prides themselves on being independent and getting everything that they want on their own, but the reality is that without the help of others, there are some milestones that cannot be achieved. Life is about teamwork and the willingness to admit when we are unable to accomplish what we need on our own. Another insight fairy tales offer, which many teenagers would agree with, is that sometimes parents don’t always make the right decision even though it may be out of good reason. Parents make mistakes that can fall back on to their children, but parents also show that regardless of the mistake that was made, there is always a way to grow from it. Love is a topic that fairy tales do not shy from which comes another teaching opportunity. The Little Mermaid set the bar for how love can be expressed without words, but how important words can be at the same time. This allows for the dilemma of whether to give it all you got or to take your time with the relationship to make sure that each party shares the same feelings for the other. This lesson goes hand in hand with another valuable one that we learn which is that actions speak louder than words. This goes for many situations other than love. Throughout life, it is proven that a person’s words can be tantalizing but it’s their actions that speaks volumes. The best example of this would be to say that if someone wanted to make time for another, they would regardless of their busy schedule. They will make their actions match their words, because it’s easy to say that they’re going to do something but to actually follow through with it will always mean more. The greatest lesson of all is to live life to the fullest. There may not always be a happy ending but living with no regrets is a happy ending within itself because there is power is looking at the brighter side of every situation.
The beauty of fairy tales is that there is no grey area between good and evil. This blatant distinction allows for the listeners/readers to identify with the characters and show that despite the dangers the protagonists faces, by keeping hope, they are able to overcome the trials and tribulations. Having hope is seeing that the grass is not always greener on the other side and that working through the hardships make for a better outcome. “To put it in more theological terms, there is certainly a problem of evil in the way the world goes; yet there is also a “problem of good” – utterly unexpected and unscripted resources in unlikely places. And at the very least this suggests to the audience for the tale a more speculatively hopeful attitude to the non-human environment as well as to other people” (Sullivan, Andrew). Fairy tales provide reassurance that no matter how dark things may get, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Cinderella, for example, made a dress by hand to wear to the ball with her step mother and sister just to have her step mother order her sisters to destroy it. Cinderella is then left at the house to cry and feel hopeless when all of a sudden, her fairy godmother appears. In the moment before her godmother arrives, the audience is feeling the despair and heartache that Cinderella is experiencing. With the grace of her godmother comes many rules that must be met in order for her night to run smoothly and avoid the backlash from her step mom. The clock strikes nine and the audience then feels the adrenaline rush of having to hurry back home before the step family gets there first. Throughout the story, Cinderella has many objections to her destiny and it’s unclear whether her happy ending will find her or if she will forever be trapped cleaning for her step family. The end of the tale proves that with hope, dreams can come true. Despite the desperate efforts of the step mom from keeping the Prince away from Cinderella, he found her and the rest was history. No matter the rough patch Cinderella found herself in, she always managed to make the best out of her situation and maintain a hopeful attitude.
Fairy tales, in addition to teaching many lessons and the meaning of having hope, teach us to have a strong sense of self. Learning who we are means that we need to believe in ourselves which requires the importance of being pushed past mental limits or the verbal limits set by others who may not have a strong sense of self. The story of Mulan is the best example of believing in yourself despite the odds stacked against you. A young girl enlists herself in the army under the pretense of being a man to honor her family and make them proud since her attempt at being a geisha failed. When she thought she would not be able to obtain her commanding officer’s respect, she pushed herself even harder because she believed that she could..and she did. Whatever social norm stood in her way, she crushed and overcame it and every way she possibly could have. Her bravery proved to everyone in her country no matter how big the threat is or what the social norm is, as long as you believe in yourself, anything is possible. Another good example would be Alice from Alice in Wonderland. Throughout the entire story, leading up to the final big battle, Alice doubts herself and cowers away from the threats from the Queen of Hearts. After awhile, she begins to believe in herself and what she is capable of becoming the Alice that everyone from Wonderland knew and loved for being the brave savior they so desperately needed. She slayed the terrifying beast then returned home to face the issues that were applying pressure in her reality. She had a new found courage and sense of self that she needed for herself to stand up for herself and determine what was in store for her future. Without these two women discovering who they were and developing a sense of self, people would have died and there would not have been any degree of a happy ending for the protagonists but rather the antagonist.
The argument against fairy tales being good for the development of the virtue in life throughout the childhood stage takes the standpoint of fairy tales providing far-fetched realities. “Disney fairy tales have always been criticized for giving us impractical expectations about real life. They make girls falsely believe we need to be rescued and guys think that waking women up is a pleasant experience” (Vino, Lauren). This portrayal displays woman as being incapable of saving herself and always having to rely on the man to deliver them unto love. Marriage being the ultimate reward of the woman being saved in majority of all fairy tales. This disrupts the true meaning of marriage. “This places a large amount of unnecessary stress onto both sexes and in particular women as they believe that they should take up the western traditional role of being a woman,” explains Dr Victoria Showunmi, who lectures in gender studies at UCL” (Petter, Olivia). Woman are also bound to specific roles within fairy tales and this creates the lack of gender fluidity. They either take care of the home or indulge in conniving activities.
Although the opposing argument makes many great points, there is a fairy tale out in today’s society that can dispute every point. Brave for instance shows a young woman who decides to take matters into her own hands. She is not a part of a love story nor is a man required to save her unless it is her father. She refuses to be contained in her home and sit by while the men take care of everything. The protagonist in this story fought to protect her family as well as fighting for equality. She wanted to be able to compete with the boys in their games despite the social norm. Mulan is the same situation. She went against the social norms and proved that a women is more than just a housewife. Neither of these stories ended in marriage so they are the perfect examples of fairy tales that dispute the oppositions standpoint.
Reflecting back on all of the points covered, it is understood that there are valuable attributes that can be gained from fairy tales. Many life lessons are available for the growing mind to learn and then develop from. Hope is ever present in fairy tales as the protagonist is faced with many hardships that society now would deem as unbearable and conquered them. Many protagonists start out with no faith or a sense of self but end up discovering everything that they needed to know and grow into the person they were destined to be. “More significant than the changes themselves, however, is what the evolution of the fairy tale tells us about ourselves and our changing society” (Moral of the Story).
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