The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Posted on April 28, 2011. Filed under: Books | Tags: , , , , , , , |

I know I am a little late on reading and reviewing this book since it was quite popular a few months to a year ago but better late than never! If you haven’t read this yet I could not recommend more than you run out and rent it from the library, or purchase it. This was such an excellent book and an absolute pleasure to read!

The Help revolves around house maids, well-to-do women, education, and desegregation in Jackson Mississippi in the early 1960s. Kathryn Stockett really takes you back in time with her characters, Aibeleen, Skeeter, Minny and Hilly. Hilly is an overly opinionated ignorant woman who enjoys having full control over everyone, her domestic help, her frail mother, her friends and the town. She thinks she is much more important and well-educated than she is, and throughout the book she is frequently the source of drama, strife and anger (from both the reader and other characters). Wherever Hilly is, trouble usually follows.

Skeeter is the heroine in this novel. She is well-educated and smart, and maybe the author was onto something with having her looks as nothing more than average, or less than average, because it allows us to look past her outer shell and into her core and her heart, which is clearly pure gold. Skeeter is from a very conservative town and household. She was extremely close with her maid, who she considered a second mother (or maybe better than a mother growing up), her childhood maid disappears before she is due to come home from college and it may be out of a gut instinct that this person would never have abandoned her that she starts to create a journal of the Jackson maids. She is dying to become a full-time writer and thinks that a book chronicling what it is really like being a maid for a white woman in Jackson could be a breakthrough, and she is correct. What Skeeter maybe didn’t fully anticipate was the stress this would cause for herself and those contributing their stories as well as the tough decisions she would make – now that she knew all about her friends’ dirty laundry did she still want to consider them friends?

Aibileen is Elizabeth’s maid. Elizabeth is Hilly’s best friend and I don’t think Elizabeth could make any decision without first knowing what Hilly wants her to do, she relies on Hilly for entirely too much and it is clear that Elizabeth has some morals but throws her beliefs out the window to stay in Hilly’s good graces. Aibileen is the strongest of the maids in terms of spirit. She believes in Skeeters project and works with her to find others who also believe in the project. Aibileen and Skeeter truly believe that this book will bring about change, they are only hoping the changes that are brought are positive.

Working on this project requires complete secrecy. The maids cannot tell their families, they cannot allow their employers to find out and Skeeter must never get caught on the wrong side of the tracks in a neighborhood she doesn’t belong in. There are many times in this book where you think it is going to take a turn for the worse and your beloved characters will be found out but you have to continue turning the pages to see if their work pays off. If completed the book will rock the world, it will show the rest of the country how backwards and behind Jackson Mississippi truly is, and will help desegregate the south that holds on so dearly to is segregated history.

Reading about the experiences the maids tell Skeeter are shocking from a modern perspective but most likely not that far from the 1960s truth, which is unfortunate. These maids were the heart and soul of many childhoods and taught many children about life, but once those kids were old enough to understand their parents they didn’t have the same love in their hearts for their maids and the pattern would start again when those children would have children. The ‘housewife’ that really stood out was Cecilia.

Minny was Cecilia’s maid. Minny was unlike the other maids in that she caused a fuss over things and wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. She had a short fuse and blew it easily. Celia was until the other wives in that she had no children and didn’t need a maid but also didn’t have an upbringing that included domestic help, or domestic skills of her own. Many of the women employed maids so that they simply didn’t have to do the work, but if necessary they were able to cook, clean and possibly take care of their children. Celia couldn’t cook or clean but also couldn’t break through into Hilly’s circle, which was all she desperately wanted. Minny learned a lot about truly caring for another person through her time with Celia and Celia in turn learned a lot about herself and how mixed up her priorities were. Watching that relationship unfold was truly memorable and touching.

This book can make us all feel grateful for the freedoms we have all won and the freedoms we enjoy. It reminds us of a time that we may, or may not have, lived through and how far we have come, together. Togetherness is the glue to this story. Anything is possible if we can come together and work as a team. Compassion and empathy are also just as important. As I read the last page of this book and reflected on what I had read, I learned that we all have it in us to feel compassion for other people and we can each be a change agent, in the troubling world we live in knowing that we can do something small that means a lot to so many people and truly makes such a big difference is a good feeling.

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