KJ's Reviews > The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
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's review
Feb 16, 2012

did not like it
Read in February, 2012

** spoiler alert ** Sigh. I feel really bad for people who thought this book gave them a peek into the civil right's era south. Yes this was an easy and entertaining read, but some of the GLARING historical errors are completely inexcusable in a piece of historical fiction. I don't care so much about Shake-n-Bake or a song, but I do care about her not knowing:
1. Whether a top leader of the civil rights movement was shot or beaten to death (can you imagine someone screwing up that detail about MLK or JFK???). Google Medgar Evers, then google Stocket's interviews on him where she seems to have no clue who exactly he was, why people were horrified that he was killed, and HOW he was killed.
2. What year the first attempts at integration started at Ole Miss (as an aspiring journalist/writer, this is something Skeeter would have noticed regardless of her opinion on it).
3. WHY a white housewife wouldn't (or would) want a "high yellow" Black woman as a maid. Did she seriously just skip completely over this? Was it a lack of curiosity on Stockett's part or just further evidence about how ignorant she is about anything having to do with Black culture?
4. How the Black community at large reacted to the church bombing in Montgomery that killed those four Black girls. I assure you it was more than just a one sentence passing remark.
5. WHO EMMIT TILL IS. Google him, note the date, and then ask yourself if ANY OF THE STORY ABOUT CONSTANTINE'S DAUGHTER MAKES SENSE TO YOU. I was born in the 1980s and his face is forever burned into my brain. Surely every Black person in the 1960s knew about him as well.
6. "some black cat group." Seriously Stockett? Are you an idiot? Google The Black Panthers, note the date, and again ask yourself the same question I presented in item 5. And while you are at it, learn a bit of the history of the group and their operations and again ask yourself whether Constantine's daughter's behavior makes even an ounce of sense.
7. The influence of white supremacy groups in 1960s Mississippi. Let Stockett tell it, they didn't exist at all or weren't much of an issue. She never once bothered to put a face to them.
8. The prevalence of sexual assault against young Black girls by the community at large and Black maids by their employers. This is just one more way that we know you didn't actually interview anyone before you wrote this or do any research at all about the time period. You made ONE TINY LITTLE remark about one of the maids being raped but glossed over it so quickly without even the slightest bit of shock or horror from Skeeter.

As for her character development and stupid plot devices:
1. Bad behavior from upstanding people comes from desperation. If you want us to believe an incident of petty theft from an otherwise moral character, you are going to need to show desperation. There was no ticking time bomb for Yule Mae. Her sons could have started school the next year. That was just stupid and never would have happened based on the way Stockett built up the character.
2. All white men are good people with good hearts who never sexually harass their maids, cheat on their wives, and they aren't actually segregationists, just men who pretend to be so they can keep their wives happy. They are even nice to their bastard mulatto children, but not nice enough to actually support them or anything.
3. All white kids deserve love, affection, adoration, and protection. Additionally they are all really cute and well behaved. Black kids don't deserve a physical description, should be beaten, have smart mouths, and are simply maids in training.
4. Black men are terrible people across the board unless they are a pastor or dead.
5. Black women are only sexual beings if they want to avoid being beaten by their husbands or are falling victim to the attentions of a bad Black man who wants to steal their money. Otherwise they are chaste, sexless, devoted to loving white babies, and full of whimsy and wisdom. aka Sexless Magical Negros. Google Spike Lee's opinion about Magical Negros. Note the date. Ask yourself why Stockett, as a professional in the field, is still writing these stereotypes.
6. Black women LOVE raising other people's children, they just don't like the mothers very much. It isn't just a job. They really LOVE THOSE WHITE BABIES. Stockett, did you TALK to anyone??? Or is this just the conclusion you so desperately wanted to believe about YOUR Black nanny??
7. Why was Skeeter writing this book? Why did Skeeter refuse to join the civil rights movement? Why would ANYONE trust the BEST FRIEND OF THE TOWN'S MOST FEARED AND FERVENT RACIST??? These questions have no answer because Skeeter and all the women who followed here were shells of characters.
8. Are all of us that dense to think the 23 year old president of the Junior League would wield that much power in Jackson's political scene? Her husband wasn't even valuable enough to be elected. How old was he anyway??
9. Abielene was a cautious and careful woman. Why would she trust a TODDLER to keep secrets about her little Civil Rights lessons? Stockett (like Skeeter) apparently has NO CLUE that Black people were killed for MUCH LESS in 1960s Jackson. But filling a white child's head with that sort of talk? Immediately snuffed out. And no way Mae Mosley's father would have simply moved his kid to another class. He would have had that teacher's head on a platter. But not in Stockett's world because, refer to point 2 above.
10. Abielene was a devout Christian woman in the south. It is highly unlikely she would have been sympathetic to a seemingly homosexual child in her care. Again, Stockett is blanket labeling all Black women as loving, caring, and blah blah without considering any of the common prejudices that exist in southern and Black culture.
11. White people are only racist if they say mean things to or about Black people. Stockett needs to look up definitions for "racism" and "cruelty" and consider that they don't always go hand in hand. Then she can rewrite her ridiculous novel.
12. Mississippi was a violent place in the pre-civil rights era and EVERYONE KNEW THIS. To act as if Skeeter was just sooooo blind to the reality of what happens to Black people who don't stay in their place is ridiculous. Maybe Stockett doesn't know what a lynching is. But I'm sure google could have told her.

All in all this was just a very silly book. There are other problems but they aren't so big that I wouldn't excuse them in a better book. This is her own ridiculous masturbatory account of what she thinks this time period was like for these people. She glosses over vital events in Black memory/history, never once considers any emotion for these Black women beyond devotion to white children, and created characters that could have never existed in nature.

Stockett you missed an amazing opportunity here to write an amazingly deep book and to give a voice to a group of women who have been marginalized, inappropriately spoken for, and kept down for generations. You didn't screw this up because you are a white woman. You screwed this up because, just like Skeeter, you lack curiosity, compassion, and the will to only speak if you know the truth. Please stick to lighter and goofier topics. You aren't a bad writer, you just suck at historical fiction.
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