In the world that we live in today, everyone has become aware of race, gender, class, cultural heritage and religion. But being respectful and enlightened about the obstacles that have hindered the progression of humanity in a more broader umbrella, has never been more highlighted and repeated than it is today.
This often makes it difficult to get one’s point across without crossing the line.
I’ve been very vague so far, like the articles that just go on and on with “fluff” to reach the word count. However, I’m trying to be very cautious and mindful while I review The Help by Kathryn Stockett.
The irony of reading of race, specifically racism prevalent in the South against “Blacks” due to “Whites” written by a white author hasn’t escaped my mind.
But despite that bold fact, I couldn’t help but be hooked to the pages.
Over the years this book and the movie have been termed as a bad attempt at “white-washing” and an undermining attempt at bringing to light the one main issue which over the decades has become a movement in itself: Black Lives Matter.
So, is it racist? Despite selling millions of copies world wide with tons of award nominations for the actors who played these endearing character?
The Help is set in the year 1960 in Jackson, Mississippi. We’re introduced to many characters but the three main characters that the story revolves around are: Aibleen, Minny, and Skeeter.
“I always thought insanity would be a dark, bitter feeling, but it is drenching and delicious if you really roll around in it.”
Aibleen has been raising children of white families for years now. She is introduced as this person of grace, strength, acceptance, bold and courageous. While having lost her son, she still finds the strength to go on and nurse babies. Currently nursing the girl of Skeeter’s best friend Elizabeth.
“Write about what disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else.”
Minny like Aibleen also has the same job, but her character is very feisty and tremendously sassy. Aibleen and her share a strong friendship which most of the time gets her through her abusive relationship and raising her children.
“It weren’t too loo long before I seen something in me, had changed. A bitter seed was planted inside of me. And I just didn’t feel so, accepting, anymore.”
She was fired from her job at Skeeter’s very racist friend; Hilly’s because of a “terribly awful” thing she did, but eventually found job at Celia Foote’s house who is the wife of Hilly’s ex.
“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.”
Skeeter is a daughter of Cotton plantation owner, who just moved back from college after graduating. With high aims of becoming a writer and journalist in New York, she ends up taking a column writing gig in her local newspaper.
“Who knew paper and ink could be so vicious”
Despite her qualifications, the opportunities are limited for her.
She has grown up among the bold, explicit segregation but that never stopped her from adoring and idealizing her maid Constantine who raised her. When no one tells her why Constantine left, something snaps within her.
“And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.”
This leads her to Aibleen with an idea of writing a book that discusses the relationship between the help and their employers. With the Civil rights movement picking up noise, Skeeter lands a deal with a publisher in New York and the three of them begin the brave but dangerous task of writing a book.
Sometimes when I write summaries, I know I cannot do them justice. One way or the other I am sure to miss out some important aspect of the story while trying not to spoil the plot. It isn’t hard, but with books on sensitive topics I get very defensive.
Should I be politically correct? Would I get called out for being insensitive?
Despite so many revolutions of the 20th century and the narrative changing in the present it is hard to be on top of what is right, what is wrong, what is the correct form of addressing and more.
The Help tackles the severe racial discrimination among the Black and White Americans. But more than racial injustice it discusses the Employer-Employee relationship between many families.
Many Black women were employed in affluent white families to raise and nurture their children. This book discusses the good, the bad and the ugly that often went down in such relationships. The effect it had on the grown-ups and the children involved.
I recently read Americanah, which I think should be taught in school. Despite being contemporary fiction, the lessons in that book go way past the realms of fiction. It talks about race in a way that puts in black and white rather than going round in circles explaining something.
So after having read that, I can see how this book and the author may have done a ton of injustices to the characters of Aibleen and Minnie. However, I wasn’t able to feel anything for Skeeter!
Other than her fight to do something drastic and find a place in the male dominated industry, she was very weak and distracted, as a character. Aibleen on the other hand, was this pillar of strength, the lighthouse you’d look for guidance.
So I am pretty divided about this book on the grounds of stereotyping or “white-washing” the racial discrimination issue. But if I look at it from a fictional standpoint, this book touches your heart and invokes your empathy for sure.
Because at the heart of this story are humans and their complex relationships. And there is nothing more beautiful and ugly than that.
Onto the basics:
- Rating: 4.0/5.0
- Favorite quote: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
- Reader level: very easy. However the language has clear nuances of the South.
- Should you read: I am not sure. It is a nice read if taken as a work of fiction but if you’re trying to be more mindful about your books then maybe not.
- Would I read it again: Probably not.
Till next time,