Bob and Weave

Musings of an impostor. Welcome to the masquerade.

The Help is on the way: A Book Review

Posted by flyingbk on 09/29/2010

I was going to review The Snakehead, but I just finished The Help last night, and wanted to review that while it was fresh in my mind.

My favorite kind of pleasure reading is historical narrative; I have devoured a number of them this summer (such as Last Call, Hellhound on His Trail, Columbine, and The Snakehead). But I’ve also been trying to read more novels lately, and it’s helpful (pun intended) when that novel is set in an historical era that’s fascinating to me. Enter The Help, which was enthusiastically recommended to me by a couple friends and is set in Mississippi during the 1960’s. You know what that means: Oodles and oodles of racial tension! While reading, I was often reminded of two of my favorite movies from that era: Mississippi Burning and Ghosts of Mississippi.

The title is a reference to the myriad African-American maids who basically functioned as the role of the housewife in a plush white residence. They cooked, cleaned, polished the silver, did the laundry, and even did everything possible a mom is expected to do for her children without actually nursing them. Some were treated well by their white female bosses; many were treated as second-class citizens and criminals; all were expected to use a separate colored bathroom which was often located in a garage. There are scenes when the white wife freaks out because the help was using the white bathroom (usually to teach the white woman’s daughter how to potty; which bathroom is the help supposed to use in that situation anyway?).

The novel features three main characters. There’s Aibileen Clark, a black maid who has a special way with white children (and has lots of experience) and seeks to teach them to be colorblind with made-up stories such as the one about Martian Luther King, who is still a person to be respected even if he’s green. Aibileen exudes a sweetness that made her my favorite character, and not just because she writes out her prayers every night, ensuring that everyone on her prayer list is accounted for. There’s Minny Jackson, another maid with a sharp tongue that doesn’t belie her jadedness and often gets her in deep trouble with white folk; but there is no better cook in the hood than her. And then there’s Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (who will be played by Emma Stone in the upcoming movie), a young white woman who desires to make it as a writer and slowly begins to wonder if the ways of the Junior League (a group of elitist white women led by the devilishly delicious Hilly Holbrook) are worth her adherence.

Skeeter decides to embark on a dangerous journey; she sets out to write a book that features secret testimonies by the helps. She and the black maids who assist her obviously need to be very careful and try to do whatever possible to ensure that the other white ladies don’t find out that the book is about them in Jackson, Mississippi (the book’s author is labeled anonymous and the locale is fictionalized as Niceville).

My favorite part of this novel is the dialect used by the black maids (the book is narrated in first person by the three main characters). The author, Kathyrn Stockett, writes at the end of the book that she hoped to capture the thoughts of the maids well while insisting that she couldn’t know what it was like to actually be one during that discrimination-filled era in American history. Stockett grew up in Mississippi with her own help (a woman named Demetrie, who did function as her mother since her white mother was an absentee), which was the inspiration for this novel.

What I loved about The Help is that it’s not afraid to explore the bitterness and utter hypocrisy that shaped the South during that period, but at the same time there are various beautiful relationships that form. In the end, the book features not just the heartbreaking stories, but also the heartening ones that speak to the best of humanity (or at least the best humanity can do under certain circumstances). It is a work of fiction that I highly recommend; try out first 20-30 pages and I promise you that you will be drawn in by its warmth, which the helps provide in great abundance.


2 Responses to “The Help is on the way: A Book Review”

  1. […] newest blog entry, a book review of The Help: […]

  2. […] #5- The Help by Kathryn Stockett. The author is currently being sued for unpermitted appropriation. Nevertheless, this novel was a wonderful read. I don’t know if the voices of the black women employed by a white author were accurate, but I enjoyed them very much. I wrote an earlier review of this book. […]

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