Publisher: The Berkley Publishing Group
In a nutshell
The Help is set in the 1960’s and told by Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter’s perspective. Aibileen and Minny are maids who worked for white families and regularly exchanged stories about their bosses they served.
Eugena “Skeeter” Phelan is the daughter of a white family who owns a cotton farm worked by African Americans. She just finished college and has returned home to find a job, hopefully as a writer. She finally got a job as a columnist at a local paper. This job sparked a bond between Skeeter and Aibileen, who reminded her of Constantine, a maid she loved and lost. She often wondered about Constantine’s disappearance as they lost touch too suddenly while Skeeter was in college.
When Aibileen shared a story about the death of her son, she inadvertently told Skeeter about an idea he wanted to work on, “he say he gone write down what it was like to be colored working for a white man in Mississippi”, which struck an accord with Skeeter who decided to pursue it. And this, ruffled a few feathers but also offered hope, promise and new-found friendships.
What I like
This book centers around racial discrimination – a topic that always captures my attention. Discrimination; be it race, gender, ethnicity or religion, is everywhere and will continue to be, as long as the earth survives, because we are only human. But the good news is, there are people who are trying to make this world a better place to live in. To those who suffered the worst of racial discrimination especially during the colonial and slave era when its at its peak, my hats off to you. I don’t think I would’ve survived it.
The Help was set in Mississippi in the 1960’s when blacks were viewed as plague and believed that “99% of all colored diseases are carried in the urine.” The helpers had to use separate toilets and wear stockings even in the heat.
My favourite character, or rather characters, are Minny and Aibileen. Minny, because she’s got attitude and she spoke her mind. In Missus Stein’s (the editor whom Miss Skeeter approached to publish her work) words, “Gertrude (Minny’s pseudonym) is every Southern white woman’s nightmare. I adore her.” But Minny’s hard on the outside but soft on the inside. And she shared an equal respect for Aibileen as she her. “That’s what I love about Aibileen, she can take the most complicated things in life and wrap them up so small and simple, they’ll fit right into your pocket.”
Aibileen, she was the opposite of Minny – she thinks before she talks. She talks reason into Minny’s hot head. She was Minny’s confidante and reason. Skeeter could relate to her too because she was much like Constantine – wise and graceful. Even little Mae Mobley was drawn to Aibileen, who constantly offered her words of encouragement “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” She dreaded the moment when Mae Mobley’s innocence would one day be tainted by her environment and upbringing. “I want to stop that moment from coming – and it come with ever white child’s life – when they start to think that colored folks ain’t as good as whites…I pray that wasn’t her moment, pray I still got time.”
The carrot of the story. It wasn’t until towards the end that we find out why Constantine left Skeeter, and the wait was worth the while. It was devastating but the reason would make you question, ‘Who was it to blame?’ ‘Was anyone at fault?’ I shan’t reveal any spoilers here.
I also liked to see how the friendship between Skeeter and Aibileen and Minny grew. It was a friendship that knew no creed or color. Wasn’t that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought. It was also nice seeing how Minny softened towards Skeeter as the project came to an end. She also played a big part in making the project come to fruition.
Perfect pitch voices and great use of point of views made the story come to live. There was heart in each of them; none were written for the sake of being written, but were there to add depth and character. The POVs helped the reader empathize, question, ponder, reflect. Using different POVs is a tricky technique too. Whose voice would the author want to use? Why? How many voices? When is ‘good enough’ to stop? Stockett managed all these perfectly.
Mae Mobley. Such a sweetie pie this little girl. I just hope she’d turn out to be like Skeeter. This is one of my many other favorite passages in the book. This is a conversation between her and Aibileen. (p, 461)
“Miss Taylor says kids that are colored can’t go to my school cause they’re not smart enough.”
I come round the counter then. Lift her chin up and smooth back her funny-looking hair. “You think I’m dumb?”
“No,” she whispers hard, like she means it so much. She look sorry she said it.
“What that tell you about Miss Taylor, then?”
She blink, like she listening good.
“Means Miss Taylor ain’t right all the time,” I say.
She hug me around my neck, say, “You’re righter than Miss Taylor.” I tear up then. My cup spilling over. Those is new words to me.
What I didn’t like
Not much really. Except probably the ending. I was expecting Elizabeth to act more reasonably like Lou Anne, especially after really seeing how much Mae Mobley loves Aibileen. But I guess, in the real world, there’s rarely a happy ending and that was how Stockett decided to end The Help. Nevertheless, it was ‘acceptable’.
Before I end this review, I’d like to share with you this video that I came across here. Storyteller Shanta, tells of her experience as a ‘black kid’ and couldn’t comprehend why the ‘white people ran away from us’. It was an experience that continued to hurt her until today.
The novel is Stockett’s first. It took her 5 years to complete and was rejected by 60 literary agents before agent Susan Ramer agreed to represent Stockett.