Book Review : The Help by Kathryn Stockett
It is 1962 and Aibileen is a black maid, and raising her seventeenth white child. She has loved everyone of the children she has raised. She is trying to find her way through mourning for the loss of her son due to a senseless accident at his job. At times it seems it is only her own dignity that can keep her going through her trials.
Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan has graduated from Ole Miss and returns home with dreams of being a writer. Skeeter’s mother won’t be happy until her daughter is married, because no woman could ever be happy without a husband. Constantine, Skeeter’s former confident and caregiver, has fled her position without explanation and Skeeter is left feeling all alone.
Minny is short, fat and sassy! She has such a bad reputation that no one who knows anything will hire her even though she is one of the best cooks. She finds a position with Celia Foote, who is ostracized from the rest of white society, and who desperately wants a friend.
These three brave women come together in a secret project to tell what life is like living as a black maid in Mississippi. The project could jeopardize their positions, standing in the community and their livelihoods. It is time for their voices to be heard.
Adult Point of View
I was drawn into Stockett’s novel The Help immediately through the language. Though there has been criticism of the use of ebonics in the book, I felt it helped me to put myself in the time and place. My husband tried reading this book and couldn’t understand the meaning of the sentences because of the African American vernacular. I felt the vernacular english set the tone and rhythm making this novel stand out.
I didn’t know that African Americans were treated as second-class citizens within my lifetime because I was raised to love and respect others. Growing up I heard the story of my Great-Grandfather, who was racist, growing up in Georgia in the late 1800’s, that he would sit up on his mammy’s lap and kiss her shiny black cheeks. He loved his mammy more than his own mother and yet still harbored prejudice. It is completely logical that Aibileen would love the little white girl that she is raising, and that she would be loved in return.
In The Help I was truly shocked that human beings could be so filled with an unreasonable and ridiculous hatred. The thought of putting in an extra bathroom for “the help” is a prime example of the ridiculous. Hilly is a stereotype of the white, privileged socialite who believes that she is not prejudiced, but rather that she is justified in ALL her actions. Hilly is exactly the kind of woman that I avoid. I was also glad that not all of the employers were characterized as being heartless, as demonstrated when one maid’s employer brought her casseroles when she was suffering through a personal crisis. I particularly liked how the situations were mundane everyday occurrences because life for women is in the details. If Stockett’s novel had just been about the big picture I feel the humanity of the story and my ability to identify would have been compromised. There were moments reading The Help when I was crying, laughing and truly horrified.
There has been criticism that The Help depicted black men as cruel or absent, however, I never felt that I was seeing the full picture of these women’s lives, but rather a slice. Surely each of these women had good men in their lives too, such as a preacher, a son or their father. I have known women who have been abused regardless of race, and did not see the fact that Minny’s husband was abusive as being indicative of black men, rather abuse would be indicative of bad men. There are also men who abandon their families, and it is an indication of their personal selfishness, certainly not their race.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Help because I felt it gave me insight into prejudice. I know it did not convey the depth of the humiliations and indignities suffered, but it still gave me a feeling of what it would have been like to be a black woman in the 1960’s in the South. I also felt that it was suffocating to be a white woman at that time being so narrowly defined by society. I would hope that a novel like this would inspire us to be better.
The Help is written for adults, however, some older teens could read it and enjoy it.
4 out of 5 stars