By Medha Setia | Opening Doorz Editorial | October 13, 2022
Book Review: The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
The Essence: The Help is a wonderful read. It takes the perfectly moulded characters through a memorable voyage creating an unbreakable bond between them. With Skeeter’s young ambition, Aibileen’s determination, and Minny’s sass the three of them cross all boundaries and endeavour to break open the rigid boxes of society. The Help is a splendid debut for Kathryn Stockett. It’s a gem in the genre of historical fiction.
The Help Book Review
During the sixties, racial discrimination was at its all-time high. The coloured and whites were separated; the coloured folks were treated as social outcasts who were obligated to serve the whites. In Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel The Help, she brings to life the relationship between the coloured maids and their high-class white employers during the early 1960s in Mississippi.
The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi, and revolves around the life of three unforgettable women—Aibileen, Minny, and Miss Skeeter. The trio embarks on a dangerous journey to challenge the status quo and make the masses hear the voice of the often-unheard section of society.
Stockett does not write with the sole purpose to capture the dark days as a maid but also aims to capture the reality. She delves into themes of human compassion, problems of domestic abuse, social hierarchy, and prejudice against the poor. The novel not only shows the constant battle between the two communities divided by skin colour but also brings out the sweet relationships some maids share with their employers and their children.
An engaging tale of three bold women
The engaging tale juxtaposes with the narrative of the three central characters Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter. It begins with the voice of Aibileen, a wise and mature coloured maid who has spent most of her life looking after the white women’s children and is raising her seventeenth white child. Aibileen dedicates all her working time to raising Miss Leefolt’s child whilst trying to heal the scars left by her own son’s death. She knows her place in the hierarchy of the community and understands the importance of holding her tongue.
Aibileen’s good friend Minny, the second voice in the book works for Hilly’s senile mother and is less adept at playing the subservient role than Aibileen. Minny is a great cook but struggles with holding her tongue and has been fired from numerous jobs for talking back to her employers. Hilly, an aggressive racist social climber, blackballs her for speaking her mind out, and Minny’s act of vengeance destroys all her means of livelihood as a maid.
Skeeter, the third voice is a young white woman who graduated from Old Miss and has returned to Jackson, her parent’s home. She endeavours to carve her path out of the discriminatory society. Encouraged by a New York editor to hone her skills, she decides to write a book about the experiences of coloured people as maids.
One white woman, a coloured perspective
Skeeter interviews a number of the local maids, revealing the maltreatment and discrimination faced by them. She uncovers many truths that are hidden behind the closed doors of socialites in Jackson. This is Skeeter’s chance to prove herself as a writer, though the stakes are way higher for the maids who are risking their necks by telling their stories.
This is a fast-moving and intriguing novel that brings to life the racism that was prevalent in America decades ago. Stockett reveals to the readers minute details to capture the era gone by and does not shy away from revealing the true social fabric of Jackson. She manages to merge history and fiction, exploring a range of emotions through her intriguing plot.
The simple language Stockett uses helps readers become a part of the story. While most of the characters have a thick southern American dialogue, the maids have an incomplete vocabulary filled with slang. Though this small detail helps create sensational characters, and a more vivid world, Stockett never truly gets inside the minds of the coloured people and sometimes the language feels inconsistent.
Some characters left unexplored
Although it cannot be denied that the book was an amazing read, it has its problems that cannot be ignored. Stockett mentions Aibileen’s absentee husband as the greasiest no-account you have ever known, a man she sarcastically calls Crisco. The joke falls flat, one would have hoped to learn more about Aibileen’s long-gone husband, but as the story unfolds, nothing seemed to be revealed about that character. One also wonders what the point of the Celia Foote plot was, a strand that was not developed and eventually petered out without adding significant value to the novel.
Right off, in the beginning, the readers are “told” about a character’s flaws, like Minny’s big mouth and her inability to hold a job. This can be said as one of the significant flaws as it is a well-known fact that a good writer is one who “shows rather than tells”.
All women, a few men
The novel is full of women, and a few men peek out, painting a troubling picture. Black men are mostly violent, lazy, or absent in women’s lives. The white men, on the other hand, are barely mentioned and quickly glossed over.
There is a brief moment where Skeeter’s motives are questioned and I feel that it would have been nice if the author had developed it. To question whether it was right for a white woman to launch her career as a writer off the back of coloured women, jeopardizing their livelihood without having a chance to escape if things turned sour.
The Help is a wonderful read. It takes the perfectly moulded characters through a memorable voyage creating an unbreakable bond between them. With Skeeter’s young ambition, Aibileen’s determination, and Minny’s sass the three of them cross all boundaries and endeavour to break open the rigid boxes of society.
The Help is a splendid debut for Kathryn Stockett. It’s a gem in the genre of historical fiction.
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