We are in the middle of February which means once again we are in the middle of celebrating Black History Month. And what better way to celebrate this important time of reflection than to discuss the monumentous novel “The Help” during its 10-year anniversary?
Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s has strong connotations and is the setting for Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help.” Stockett’s “The Help” was released in 2009 and was inspired by her family maid, Demetrie. Stockett never got the chance to ask Demetrie what it was like being a maid before she passed away, so she used her intuition to write her novel and honor her the only way she knew how. The award-winning novelhighlights black and white relationships during the civil rights movement and beautifully confronts conflicting topics such as abuse, segregation, and uncertainty. Within Stockett’s novel, racial segregation is peaking and three women – a white-privileged daughter and two African-American, hard-working maids – hope to generate a shift in the civil rights movement by writing one surreptitious book.
One of the three perspectives the novel is written in is Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan’s. She is a University of Mississippi graduate who returns home to a controlling mother and high societal expectations, but instead dreams of bigger things than writing the Miss Myrna column (the actual work of her friend Elizabeth Leefolt’s maid, Aibileen Clark). With the help of Aibileen and Minny Jackson, these three women narrate their perspectives of their new book “Help.” It is a book of true stories told from the perspective of 12 African-American maids with all diverse stories about being ‘the help’ for white women.
Skeeter, driven to assemble a team to write her book, is guided by Aibileen, a maid who has lost her son and makes a career out of raising white babies; Aibileen offers her house for any interviews Skeeter needs. Aibileen refuses in the beginning to help write the book because the risk of being discovered is too high; however, she eventually changes her mind after Medgar Evers is killed. Aibileen finds another way to fix the social problems of her time. She once tells Mister Leefolt how she “works best with babies” and continuously tells stories to Mae Mobley, Miss Leefolt’s daughter, about equality. Without the many mothers knowing about it, Aibileen creates a small change in every baby she raises and hopes it sticks. Stockett thoroughly captures the difficulty of every risk her characters take to write their book.
An antagonist of the novel, Hilly Holbrock spends the majority of her time trying to segregate the maids’ bathrooms from their white employers and tearing down any opposition. Miss Hilly and Skeeter had been best friends for years, but with Skeeter’s secret book coming to light, their relationship crumbles – Miss Hilly ends up alienating Skeeter from her own town. Stockett best displays Skeeter’s determination to finish her book through Miss Hilly’s character and her decision to alienate Skeeter. Skeeter’s isolation is highly important for her book as well as Stockett’s novel.Without this isolation, Skeeter Phelan wouldn’t be anything else besides a help to the racial segregation she wants to fight.
Stockett’s novel is a perfect blend of authenticity and best-seller fiction. It symbolizes the importance of dignity in every color of skin. There is an irony of high-class white women treating their black help terribly but allowing their maids to raise their white children – Stockett did an excellent job showcasing and critiquing this irony to communicate her message. This novel is truly a moving piece of artwork as well as a reminder that “kindness don’t have no boundaries” no matter the race, gender, age, or any other distinct trait one may hold. Stockett is conveying to her readers that no matter what they are or where they come from, she wants everyone to remember, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”