Reviewing Kathryn Stockett's 'The Help'
The Help is a touching novel, exploring the racial divide in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi.
The novel, published in 2009, features Aibileen Clark, a black maid working in a white family's household, Minny Jackson, another black maid working in secret for a young white couple, and Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, a daughter of a white family who owns a cotton farm and aspiring writer.
As she comes to terms with the devastating treatment of black maids across Jackson, known as the 'Help', Skeeter begins to gain the trust of the maids who fall victim to the racial hostility of the era and endure the vindictive treatment of their white employers. Interviewing the maids in the hope of publishing their stories, Skeeter uses her writing as an attempt to change the situation in her home town and, ideally, America as a whole.
This book is stunning. The humour, brought to you predominantly through the character of Minnie, alongside the painful anecdotal experiences, brings to life the cruelty and devastation of racism in the 1960s. Tragically, the novel is set almost a century after the Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery in the United States and hoped to foresee a transition from barbaric racism to racial harmony.
The passion and determination of Skeeter made me fall in love with the novel. Much like myself, she aspires to be a journalist, and she is not scared of the detriment she could inflict upon herself in publishing the stories of the maids and exposing the truth of the neighbourhood she lives in. She recognises the troubles inherent in her society and desires to make a change - she is a powerful, inspirational character.
I also love how Skeeter defies the stereotypical white, middle class woman her mother wishes her to become. It simply isn't in her nature to enjoy dinner parties whilst the maids run around after her and have to suffer from the horrific ideology of the white racist. This sets Skeeter apart from Hilly, a bully who represents the majority of the white community. This is why I love Celia, a white woman who is ostracised by her fellow socialites. She treats Minnie as she deserves to be treated - as an equal - and represents, like Skeeter, the beginning of a change in the United States.
Minnie, a truly phenomenal character, is a powerhouse of strength that symbolises the need for change. The 'terrible awful' (which I will not spoil for you, but can guarantee is a source of great comedy in the novel) that haunts Minnie represents a sense of rebellion amongst the maids who were justifiably unhappy with how they were treated. Minnie is angry, and after you read the novel, you will feel her anger.
If you are interested in learning more about how black maids were treated in the late 1900s in America, this novel will give you much more than that - it offers an insight into the pain the maids felt, but also offers comfort and hope that people like Skeeter and Celia exist to change the status quo and remove the shadow of white imperialism from the world.
What makes this novel special is the beauty of the uniting of Skeeter, Aibileen and her fellow maids through the power of the written word, which becomes symbolic of the unity of the races in a hostile environment. The harmony of the novel makes me hopeful for the maids and hopeful that the Skeeters of the world will continue to ensure change is enacted where it is so vitally needed.