Lucy's Reviews > The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
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Jun 17, 09

bookshelves: favorites
Read in May, 2009

Gush, gush, gush, gush, gush! I cannot gush enough about this book.

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, follows the lives of three women living in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi. Two of the women, Aibilene and Minny are black, hired as help to wealthy, or trying to appear wealthy, white families. Eugenia, or "Skeeter" as she is called, is a white woman recently graduated from Ole Miss University and trying to become a writer. She is what probably most of us are, kindly ignorant of the world around her. Raised on what her mother embarrassingly still refers to as a "plantation" she lived in an environment with all the privilege and prejudice you'd expect from a southern belle. Living at home again, Skeeter doesn't quite fit in anymore among her friends, who are all married with children.

When a feminist editor from New York rejects one of Skeeter's submissions, she includes with that rejection the advice for Skeeter to write about what disturbs her. It is while playing bridge with her friends, and she becomes aware of her friend, Miss Hilly's, crusade for every home to have a separate bathroom installed for "the help", to contain the germs blacks carry that whites are more susceptible to, that Skeeter realizes she has found her subject matter.

Skeeter is the least developed character of the three but she is the means in which this uniquely uplifting story can be told. Without Skeeter, who at 22, finally and lonesomely comes of age, The Help would simply be another shocking look at the racial inequality that existed still so recently in the South. It is Skeeter's character, and her ambition to write a book that matters, that strips Aibilene's and Minny's blatantly mistreated, funny and irresistible characters out of their perfectly pressed maid uniforms and into each of our lives.

I don't want to give away too much about Abilene and Minny, who became women I loved. They mattered to me. Aibilene, especially, is so vividly written, that her voice, her mannerisms... her unguarded moments... took solid form in my imagination. More than anything, I wanted her to thrive. To triumph.

As rich as this book is in both characterization and plot, its real accomplishment is that it encouraged me to examine my own prejudices. Racism has always been a frustrating topic for me to think about, as has sexism. My mind has a hard time wrapping around the idea that there was a time when educated people - enlightened people - sincerely believed that any race or gender was superior to another. It seems our spirits must have always had the capacity for understanding that this could not be so, but The Help showed me how such beliefs are possible.

Stockett, a southern white woman herself, exposes this possibility with an experienced sympathy. Using a variety of characters, she demonstrates how many Southerners in this particular chapter of our nation's history weren't racist because they were mean-spirited or elitists, but because tradition and bogus science had supported their belief. Foolish traditions, yes, but they were able to be easily convinced that a separate toilet was not only desirable but necessary because they lacked scientific understanding about germs and contamination and genetics. They only thing available to counter such painfully offensive actions was personal reflection and, perhaps, their consciences.

More so, and what was really eye opening to me, were the attitudes of "the help", and how their own actions and attitudes were also heavily influenced by tradition and fear - as much so as their white counterparts. Whites, with control and power, dosed out injustice after injustice that was defended by their fear and blacks adjusted to the degradation based on their own learning and fear. Minny was taught by her mother how to behave as a maid in the home of a white woman - what to say and do and how to say and do it. She also experienced first hand the consequences of breaking with that tradition, being fired and blacklisted and unable to provide for her family. The difference between what excuses the fear as loathsome or imaginable was the availability of recourse. Blacks had none. Or very little.

I must believe, as a human being, that there is something inside each of us that witnesses the value of our souls. However, blacks, then, had even less access to understanding and knowledge than their white peers which left them with little other than their own consciences as proof of their worth. How frustrating to be human whose freedom is limited by the understanding of others. It made me wonder which of us are like Miss Skeeter, Miss Hilly, Aibilene or Minny. Are we currently kindly ignorant, arrogantly holding all the answers, quietly giving the best of ourselves with what society allows or protecting our vulnerability with a tough outer shell?

Perhaps, we are all of them, at different times of our lives, progressing at our individual rates of enlightenment and courage. As Skeeter explained, "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'."

Amen.

Now, go read this book!
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Quotes Lucy Liked

Kathryn Stockett
“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.”
Kathryn Stockett, The Help


Reading Progress

05/07/2009 page 170
37.69% "Gush! Loving this." 1 comment
05/08/2009 page 280
62.08% "This keeps getting better...." 1 comment
05/09/2009 page 464
100% "Best book I've read this year." 1 comment

Comments (showing 1-15)




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Laurel Another great review, Lucy!! I just got this from the library and it's next up on my list. Looking forward to it!


message 14: by Lucy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lucy I hope you love it. Halfway through the year 2009 and it's at the top of my favorite's list so far. I bet the audio version is awesome because a lot of the book is written in vernacular, which was really well done. But, you'll get to here Aibilene. I hope the narrator does that wonderful woman justice.


message 13: by Amy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amy I live for reviews like this. That end with injunctions like that. I will do it!


Michelle Alright, I will!


message 11: by Lucy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lucy I hesitated writing such a positive review because I know high expectations sometimes ruin an otherwise great book. And this is a great book that I'd hate anyone to be disappointed in because they were expecting something....more. It's still such a new book and I'm sure there are flaws to point out, but I know I loved it while I was reading it, I know I finished it satisfied and happy and a month later, I'm still as enchanted.

I hope it gives you the same reading pleasure it gave me.


Brenda OK, I'm putting "The White Tiger" back on the shelf and making this my next read.


Lynne can't wait to read this! Lucy, I always look forward to reading your reviews. Thanks.


Melanie I went the library route for getting this book but the list is so long I'll have to wait until December! Looks like I'm going to go the Amazon or ebay route and get to it sooner. Love this review!


Lucy Melanie, I fully support buying the book. I think it's a keeper (and a lender-outer).




Melissa Thanks for your glowing review. I bought this book in March and it's been sitting on the shelf since then. I've "fast-tracked" it to the top my my TBR stack. Book group is tomorrow night, so I crack the cover on The Help Friday morning.


Lucy I know what it's like to have a stack, Melissa. I have several library books out but just got a new book, Cutting For Stone, that I'm itching to read. Whether or not it jumps ahead in the queue is still in question.

Have fun at bookgroup!


Melissa Cutting for Stone is on the list too...I've read great things about it. I want to read his first one -- My Own Country -- as well. Sooo many books sooo little time.



Tina I know it's been quite awhile since you posted this review, but I have just read the book myself. Thank you for your honest and refreshing insight. I kept looking for someone who brought out your comment on examining our own prejudices and the lines that still divide us, but few got to that level. I appreciated your comment, "Are we currently kindly ignorant, arrogantly holding all the answers, quietly giving the best of ourselves with what society allows or protecting our vulnerability with a tough outer shell?" We have the luxury of looking back through time, from our "enlightened" perspective now, and can easily see the injustice of it all. Yet, I wonder if our grandchildren will be reading a book about our generation one day, and will think the same things about us and the lines that separate us in our time...


Lucy Thanks, Tina. I wonder the same thing. I really do.


Lizzi Wonderful and thought provoking review Lucy! I just finished this book, 4 days after starting it. I loved it.


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