I feel I should point out, I am not formally educated in anything to do with literature. But, it is something I feel passionate about, and have done since I learned to read. So, I felt I could document books I read, by posting regular reviews for them. Any thoughts are my own, and I will try to limit spoilers, because no one likes that.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Frequently tagged as ‘the opposite to Gone with the Wind’, I picked up this book at my local library because it seemed different. The novel covers the problems in 60s Mississippi, encountered by the hired black help, as they work for white families. Helped by a young aspiring writer, the maids put across their side of the story, in a bit to make things better for their families and friends.
Seems very noble. And the main characters of Skeeter, Minny and Aibileen are very likeable, and this helps the story a lot. Aibileen is a black maid working for the Leefolds, and raising their young daughter Mae Mobley. The relationship between Mae Mobley and Aibileen is sweet. Due to Miss Leefold’s hesitance to handle her child, most of the parenting comes down to the maid. Something, which is described as being normal at the time. You can’t help but feel sorry for children, whose parents
simply don’t want to parent. To those children, their maids are everything, and the children mean the world to the maids.
Minny is Aibileen’s best friend. She has spent most of her life waiting on white families, much like her friend, but she has what she calls ‘sass mouth’, which causes confliction with her employers. She is a feisty character who has a large family and an alcoholic husband. She spends most of the novel working for Miss Celia Foote, who I found one of the more genuine characters in the book. Miss Foote has never had a maid before, and she struggles with what she can or can’t do. And Minny, doesn’t quite know how to take this woman who wants to be friends. In their own space, these two woman are feisty and strong, but together, they both seem nervy and unsure.
And then there’s Skeeter, a recent college graduate, who has just returned home to Jackson to stay at her parent’s plantation. She loved her family’s old maid, Constantine, but is upset to find her gone on her return. She wants to be a writer, and finds herself questioning her values to get where she wants to go. It is her, who approaches Aibileen about writing a book, from the point of view of the help. And starts things changing, coming to loggerheads with her best friend, Hilly Hollbrook, the queen bee of Jackson.
It’s the idea, that a white woman was catalyst for everything, that bothers me. Evidentially, from the piece written by Stockett at the end of the novel, she wanted to be Skeeter. She wanted to change things for the black workers, that worked for her family in 60s Mississippi. But she didn’t, she buried her head in the sand, like so many others did during that time. Whilst I try to ignore the author’s backstory, I can’t help the overtone I felt on the book. It was like ‘white people are awful, but some can make things better for black people’. I find that Skeeter does it all, to further her career as making the whole thing fall a bit flat. I am sure that if Minny or Aibileen had been the instigator, the tone would be different.
Despite what I have said, I did really become emotionally involved in the storyline, and was willing the characters on with their goal. And to me, that alone makes me want to recommend you read this book. The overtone I picked up, did dampen how I feel about the book. Because I felt Skeeter to only push the boundries for her job prospects, whereas Aibileen and Minny wanted to do it for their family. And that idea, wouldn’t shift. So for that, I do have to mark the book down a little.