The distinguishing element of the genre of fairy tales is magic; every fairy tale has a magically element that separates it from regular stories. Whether it is a magical fish, an ogre, a witch, a sorcerer or a warlock, every fairly tale contains some sort of magical element. This is, however, just one characteristic that creates fairy tale, and cannot alone be credited with defining the genre. One very important characteristic of fairy tales is that they are written works. Folk tales, for example, similarly contain a magical element, but can be clearly distinguished from fairy tales due to the fact that they are shared orally, not through written works. This is an important historical distinction because it tells us that fairy tales originated in a higher class than folk tales. Had fairy tales been for the lower class, they could not have been written as the lower class was not in general literate in 16th, 17th and 18th century Italy and France where fairy tales originated. Furthermore, the fact that the fairy tales were written in Italian, that is the fairy tales written in Italy, and more than that, the dialectic Napoleonic Italian tells us that fairy tales were generated in the middle or bourgeoisie class, as the aristocratic class at the time read and wrote in Latin. Jack Zipes confirms that the major literary forces of the time, Straparola from Venice, Basile from Naples, and Perrault and D'Aulnoy from France were all members of the upper-middle class.
This upper-middle middle class origins has been another key characteristic of fairy tales as it has shaped the message of fairy tales. The upper middle class at the time of fairy tales origins were educated and proper, and considered themselves civilized as compared the lower classes. What primarily kept the out of the upper or aristocratic class was the mere fact that they were not already members of aristocratic class. Now consider that the two main goals of early fairy tales were to educate the masses class with civilite, that is the proper form of civilized society, and to insult the court system that ruled society at the time and enforced the class structure. This coincides well the sentiment of the upper middle class at the time, frustrated at both the lower class, for failing to have civilite and acting like uncivilized barbarians, and the upper class for unfairly keeping them out of the elite of society. These themes civilizing the uncivilized and social mobility are persistent in many fairy tales, even modern day Disney versions of them, Beauty and the Beast and Princess and the Frog type fairy tales involve a proper, well behaved woman civilizing an unruly beast and turning him into a proper prince. Even, Tangled, a take on the classic Rapunzel adds this element, where now Rapunzel takes a wild thief and tames and turns him into a proper gentleman and a prince. Similarly many fairy tales promote the deserving rising to levels of prominence, and even make fun of the classical requirements for elitehood. In tales like Cinderella and Puss in Boots, the characters of Cinderella and Puss are instantly transformed from the lowest class to highest simply by changing their clothing. This illustrates the superficiality of the elitism and aristocratic class felt by the upper middle class authors of these tales.
One very important feature of fairy tales is the hero, fairy tales always have a designated hero. These heroes were used to demonstrate the ideals of what the author believes a civilized, proper person should act. This has lead to a vast difference between male and female heroes in fairy tales, as, according to civilite, men and women had very different purposes in society and thus had very different ideals to live up to. Women were supposed to be patient, submissive, good at house work, beautiful and humble. Their goal in life was to wait for a man to complete them. Men on the other had, were supposed to be curious, clever, brave and ambitious; their goal was to attain as high a social status as possible, which often, but not always, included finding a princess or noble of some sort to marry.
The contrast to the hero, the villain, is another fairy tale staple. This villain is often the example of the opposite of civilite, and exemplifies the wrongs caused by a lack of it. This is not always the case, however, where sometimes rather than being a specific example of lack of civilite, the villain rather exploits a lack of civilite in another character. For example, consider Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf actually contains many qualities of a civilite male, he's clever and ambitious, his physical appearance is lacking but that is not so much a requirement for civilite men. Rather, the wolf exposes the dangers of little red riding hood not having civilite, being too curious and not humble enough.
These four elements, the magic, the moral, the hero and the villain are found at the basis of all fairy tales and form a definition of the stylistic elements of the genre; while the written element and upper-middle class language and origins further help define technical aspects of fairy tales and allow us to completely define the genre completely.