Will Byrnes's Reviews > The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
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Dec 01, 10

Read in October, 2010

The Help is a tale of lines, color, gender and class, in the Jackson, Mississippi of the early 1960s. This is a world in which black women work as domestics in white households and must endure the whims of their employers lest they find themselves jobless, or worse. It is the Jackson, Mississippi where Medgar Evers is murdered, and where spirit and hope are crushed daily. It is the Jackson, Mississippi where Freedom Riders are taken from a bus, a place where segregation and racism are core beliefs and where challenge to the status quo is met with resistance, to the point of violence. It is a time of political turmoil on the national stage, as the civil rights movement is picking up steam. It is also a place where using the wrong bathroom could get a black person beaten to death.

The Help sees this world through three sets of eyes, Aibeleen, a fifty-something black woman who has taken care of many white children and is beginning again with a newborn. Minny, in her thirties, has troubles enough at home, with an abusive, drunken husband and several children of her own, but her inability to control her tongue has led to a series of jobs and a series of firings. Skeeter is a young white woman, newly graduated from college, and eager to pursue a career in writing. Skeeter has grown a conscience and no longer accepts the presumptions of the past. She yearns to know what happened to Constantine, the black woman who was so important to her as a child. Skeeter sees the unfairness of the social structure. She engages Aibeleen, Minny and a host of other black domestic workers to tell their stories for a book, hoping to expose the hypocrisy and cruelty of Jackson’s white society.

The story not only places the events in historical context, but offers a taste of what it must have been like for the Aibeleens, Minnys and Skeeters of the time. Stockett has created living, breathing characters, people you can relate to, cheer and cry for. If there is softness here, it is that the devils are painted in glaring red, which may be an accurate portrayal of the time, but makes for a melodramatic feel at times. The heroines are fully realized. We get a sense of how they came to be the way they are. While we are offered some background on the baddies, it is not enough to make them as completely human as the three narrators.

The Help is a powerful, moving read, blessed with a colorful, believable cast of characters, a compelling setting and an eternal message of shared humanity, a knockout of a first novel.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Mark If there is softness here, it is that the devils are painted in glaring red, which may be an accurate portrayal of the time, but makes for a melodramatic feel at times

This was one of the things i struggled with too. Miss Hilly, for example, just seemed too horrible not just for words but that she could have had a real existence. Her petty viciousness and nastiness seemed ridiculous and I found it difficult to see why she would have been set up as the main trend setter as she was such an unadulterated bitch. Great review of an excellent book


Will Byrnes Thanks, Mark. There is indeed a wealth of petty viciousness in the world. Have you been catching recent political news here? North Carolina goes out of its way to gay bash. Other states are doing their best to follow suit. And there are plenty of entirely petty bitches in the world, both female and male. I agree that the reality of how awful people really are can sometimes make for bad fiction. Personally, the black hat that was Hilly seemed somewhat reasonable to me given the time and the place. But I can see how it might have been better to have used instead a bit of subtlety.


Dolors The Help is a powerful, moving read, blessed with a colorful, believable cast of characters, a compelling setting and an eternal message of shared humanity
Will, I couldn't have said it better, sensitive review for a very touching book.


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