Nicole's Reviews > The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
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Mar 21, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, history, pop-fiction
Read in March, 2010

When I first saw this book, I judged it by its cover and internally dismissed it, telling the person who lent it to me, while she raved that it was fabulous, thanks and that I would read it. I had immediately dismissed it as "women's fiction", thinking that the story would be tritely told, the writing hackneyed, and that I would just skim through it. Once I started reading it, however, I had a very hard time putting it down. Not only is it well-written, but it's empathetic, wry, moving, and engrossing.

In 1960's, pre-Civil Rights movement Jackson, Mississippi, two black maids, Aibeline and Minny, and Ole Miss graduate, Skeeter, recently returned to her family home, tell their stories. Aibeline is a nanny, cook, and maid to one of Skeeter's childhood friends. She has made it her career to see through white children through their first years. Inept mothers/housewives leave their children and homes in her capable hands, while forcing her to use a different toilet for fear of her contaminating them with disease. Minny is a sass-mouthed cook, whose bluster keeps her from holding down a job, but fails to protect her from her husband. Both women are strong and intelligent, but they are kept in check by ever-present reminders of their subjugation to white people. Miss Skeeter is a white lady on the other side of that invisible fence, but at times seems almost equally as bound by the expectations of her monther, of her friends to conform, and by her own awkwardness. Almost, but never really, and herein lies what I read to be the ultimate message of this book. While Skeeter, out of ambition firstly, and compassion due to her fondness for her childhood nanny secondly, begins to write the story of Jackson's black maids, she starts to see the real divide between black and white. Blinded from birth by the culture in which she was raised, Skeeter finally sees the harm in the casually cutting racism of her friends, and the deeper brutality that supports and perpetuates segragation in the Jim Crowe South. These realizations are Aibeline and Minny's reality, and what for Skeeter means the threat of social ostrization, for Minny and Aibeline means the loss of a job, their house, and possibly their lives. There is a gap in this country between the history of white people and the history of black people, and this book touches on it in a way that makes it understandable that white people may never understand how profound that gap is. Through the well-textured language of each of the three characters, the reader is priviliged to a finely-drawn portrait of Southern culture at its best and worst. It makes me want to see something similar of the unspoken racism of the North, but we may have a while to go before we are awake enough our own prejudices to generate an author capable of exploring that particular underbelly. While this book is not without its cliches and possiblity that the race of its author may have tempered the examples of racism to something more palatable, it is still a fine piece of fiction and highly enjoyable to read.
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