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Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, who's always taken orders quietly, but lately she's unable to hold her bitterness back. Her friend Minny has never held her tongue but now must somehow keep secrets about her employer that leave her speechless. White socialite Skeeter just graduated college. She's full of ambition, but without a husband, she's considered a failure. Together, these seemingly different women join together to write a tell-all book about work as a black maid in the South, that could forever alter their destinies and the life of a small town...
I think that I underpaid for The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Yes, that’s right underpaid. You see, I purchased The Help by Kathryn Stockett at a publisher warehouse sale for $3 – brand new. After reading it, I realize The Help is one of those books where I would have gladly handed over full price. /gush
The Help by Kathryn Stockett is about three women in Jackson, MS. Skeeter is a white, rich girl who recently graduated from college. She does not have a ring on it, (all my single ladies!) unlike her lame ass best friends. When you meet them, you’ll understand why I think her friends are lame. The true star of the story is Abilene. Abilene is a Black woman who takes care of white people’s children. Abilene’s BFF is Minny. Minny is pretty much the best cook in Jackson, but no one will hire her because she’s sassy. The lives of these women, as you probably guessed, eventually intertwine.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett definitely had me shaking my head at Jackson, MS. I know I shouldn’t judge another state based upon a fictional book, but here in my ivory tower in NY, I can’t help but think why are people so nutty? (See: Mississippi Burning) I understand racism is something which is socially conditioned (i.e. if everyone around you is a racist, and treat it like it’s cool to hate on people, then you’ll probably see this as normal) as well as some other factors. Still, it just outrages me. However, the Help delves into more than the overt lynching sort of racism, but into the subtle below the surface type. For example, Abilene ruminates on when her white charge, Mae Mobley, will start to question if black skin is not as good as white skin? Abilene does what she can to raise Mae to be a good person and to see color not as a characteristic to judge a person on. She also goes on about how women are not quite as overt in destroying a person, but “No, white womens like to keep they hands clean. They got a shiny little set a tools they use, sharp as witches fingernails, tidy and laid out neat, like the picks on a dentist tray. They gone take they time with em.”
Minny, on the other hand, speaks her mind to the face of her employer and it often gets her into trouble. However, we see that Minny also has a vulnerable side beneath her tough, cake-baking exterior. Minny has five kids, her husband is a jerk. Really, all she has is her friends- especially Abilene. The sections narrated by Minny had me alternately laughing and sighing in sadness, as on the one hand Minny gives a certain character her just deserts, but on the other Minny’s dealing with some tough issues at home.
Now, Skeeter. Her character not only served to illustrate a contrast to Minny and Abilene, but I think her character subverted gender roles of her region. For example all of her friends earn an MRS. degree from Ole Miss, whereas Skeeter actually gets her bachelors. She’s intelligent. She doesn’t give a fig about fashion. I liked that she was career-minded instead of love-minded.
I can see where perhaps some may dislike The Help by Kathryn Stockett because Stockett presumed to write in the point of view and dialect of a person of color, even though she is white. I will say, Stockett addresses this issue in her afterword, where she basically says yeah I’m white and I can’t presume that I will ever know exactly what it is like to be PoC, but I can try to understand. To me, that’s admirable. Yes, this is a story about race relations, but it’s also a story about women and how they relate to each other, and their place in society during the 1960s.