During the sixties, segregation was at its all time high. Blacks and whites were separated when it came to about anything. Water fountains, cinemas, and schools are some examples. The South was directly impacted by this cultural trouble. Black women and men were degraded and forced to work under white men in horrible conditions.
Men worked in factories and labor jobs, while the women went from white family to white family cleaning the houses and raising the children. Many books have been written to express these human struggles, but nothing has been made quite like The Help.
The Help, written by Kathryn Stockett is an emotionally driven novel with exceptional characters, and an outstanding plot that centers on intense segregation issues.
Stockett was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, which is the exact setting of the book. Even though this is her first novel, it is clear she is a talented and creative author. Her experience with the subject is shown throughout the novel.
She herself had a black maid during this time named Demetrie, who she loved and cared about. Demetrie died when Stockett was 16. For many years, Stockett has wondered how Demetrie felt being black in Mississippi, working for a white family.
According to Stockett, that is the reason she wrote this book, in the hope of finding out the answer within the characters she created.
The novel splits between three major characters: Aibileen, an older black maid who has no husband and no children; Minny, Aibileen’s younger, close friend who is working to support her many children and abusive husband; and Skeeter, a determined, white writer who wants to make a difference.
Stockett starts the novel in Aibileen’s point of view, but throughout the novel she writes in the point of view of Minny and Skeeter as well. She is able to delve into the minds and emotions of these intriguing who play an important role in the plot.
The plot is an exciting and suspenseful one. Skeeter is tired of her friends, Hilly and Elizabeth, treating their maids like dirt. Her old maid, Constantine, was very important to her. She was apart of her family, and to see her friends treat their maids so disrespectful angers Skeeter.
Skeeter teams up with Aibileen and Minny to produce a novel of numerous black maids’ experiences working for white families. It was very dangerous for all involved, and Stockett creates anxiety and suspense through this unknown fear of the beloved characters getting caught.
There are other smaller stories within the major plot that provides depth into each of the character’s world.
The language Stockett uses helps the reader become a part of the story. While all the characters had thick southern dialogues, the maids all had intense slang and incomplete vocabulary. This helps produce the characters and creats a more vivid world.
There wasn’t anything in this novel I thought was played down or weak. From Mrs. Ciela, Minny’s sweet but ignorant white boss, to Hilly, the mean and manipulative lady of the town, Stockett’s characters are well built and form a mirror to what life was like during that time period. Everyone was stereotyped, discriminated, and misunderstood.
The theme of human compassion is expressed in this novel emotionally and vividly. Anyone who reads The Help will be moved by how horrible Hilly acts towards people, how abusive Minny’s husband treats her, and the heart wrenching end when Aibileen is forced to leave her white baby girl she has raised, Mae Mobley.
I recommend reading this incredible novel as well as seeing the movie after. Stockett is a wonderful new writer who I hope will continue to write. I would love to read more of her work.