Revisiting racism through new eyes “The Help”
As one of the most tumultuous times in our nations’ history, it’s no wonder why even 50 years later the intensity of the civil rights movement is an environment that authors revisit often.
This is the case with Kathryn Stockett’s new novel “The Help.”
After graduating from Ole Miss, a young affluent white woman, Miss Skeeter, returns home to Jackson, Miss., to find all of her friends moving on with their lives. Not satisfied with developing into a traditional southern bride for a man that seemingly doesn’t exist, Skeeter pursues a career in writing.
After getting a job at the local paper writing a cleaning column, something she knows nothing about, she forms an unlikely friendship with one of her own friend’s maid, Aibileen, through asking her cleaning questions.
Through this unexpected relationship, Skeeter sees the injustice and hardships that the black maids in Mississippi must endure and is struck with an idea that will not only expose their stories, but also help her reach her goal of becoming an author.
With Aibileen’s help they convince other maids to come forth with their stories, some wonderful and some tragic, and Skeeter creates a collaboration for her book, protecting both herself and the maids with anonymous publication.
However, once the book reaches the hands of the controlling powers in Jackson, life as they know it is completely changed.
The issues of race have been tackled before and are somewhat of a familiar story. Although Stockett sometimes wades into the cliché, she also introduces elements into her story that make it new and fresh.
To keep the book from becoming too overbearing, she introduces humor into several situations. Stockett is also not shy about revealing the love the maids feel for the white children they raise and the disappointment they share when the children grow up to be just like their mothers.
Aside from race, Stockett also opens up several feminist issues as all of the main character and character interactions occur between women. Marriage versus education plagues Skeeter. Violence in the home tortures several of the maids. Unplanned pregnancy and scandalous marriages can be an issue for both the maids and the white women.
However, Stockett opens up a literary taboo and openly discusses miscarriage and physician malpractice and abuse toward grieving women.
Stockett is a master of character. She is able to create a full and informative history of each of her characters that makes them not only sympathetic, but also dynamic. Her ability to do this with the book’s strange format is impressive, but more realistic.
Each chapter of the book is told by either Miss Skeeter, Aibileen, or another maid, Minny, exactly like the book the three characters set out to write. Therefore the descriptions of each of the other characters are through the perspective of someone else, much the way we actually learn about others.
Her characters are also bolstered by extensive back stories that are revealed sentence by sentence. Stockett is also able to mix in good characters with truly evil ones adding to the variety and interest of the novel.
Overall the novel is not a difficult read but it is a delicious page turner as noted by it’s New York Times best seller status.
I would recommend this book as it is a beautifully written piece of literature. The story is familiar enough now to be comfortable without being too clichéd, as Stockette adds a new perspective to a story that borders on the unrealistic. She balances this out well with intimately captured characters and personal interactions that make the book an enjoyable read.
Over all I wouldn’t classify this book as groundbreaking or revolutionary in any way, but it is another great addition to both civil rights and feminist literature that shouldn’t be ignored.