Recap: If you’ve ever wondered what it was like down South in the 1960’s during the Civil Rights movement, you’re in luck. If you haven’t ever wondered that, you need to read this book anyway. Kathryn Stockett’s The Help tells the story of a white woman and two black maids in Jackson, Mississippi, who surprise themselves when they decide to shake the town by writing a book about “the help.”
Skeeter, the white woman, is an aspiring writer and an outcast among her rich, white, well-educated friends. After graduating from college, she starts writing for a local paper, but can only get a job as the house-cleaning columnist, Miss Myrna. So she enlists one of her friend’s maids, Aibileen, for help. The two strike up a friendship, something that’s unheard of in those days.
Together they enlist a group of black women, including Aibileen’s best friend and outspoken maid, Minny, to write a book about the help’s experiences working for white women. But writing such a controversial book and keeping it a secret puts them in more danger than they ever could have imagined.
Analysis: I’m going to be honest. I don’t know much about the Civil Rights movement, nor do I know much about the South. I decided to read this book for the same reason everyone else did: it’s hugely popular and is about to become a movie. But I’m so glad I read it. It had me thinking about the differences between whites and blacks — or lack thereof — like never before. And really, isn’t that the purpose? The fictional book that these women write gets the town talking about race. And now, 50 years later, Stockett strikes up the race chatter with her actual book.
I found myself asking my mother how she remembers life growing up. Did she have a maid? Was she black? How often was she at her house? What did my mother and her parents think of her? The book really made me think, and that’s something I haven’t had a book accomplish in quite some time.
Not only does Stockett get us talking, much like the people of Jackson in her novel, but she also writes in a style that feels real. Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny each tell parts of the story from their own perspectives. The book is a revolving door of personal reflections from the 3 major characters. Not to mention, Aibileen and Minny’s sections are written in their natural tongue, with phrases like “I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime” and “circling around the little island a grass at the end with they windows down.”
MVP: Aibileen. The Help begins and ends with Aibileen sections. She’s the real focus of the story here. It’s Aibileen who first agrees to help Skeeter with her book. It’s Aibileen who gets Minny and the others to jump on the bandwagon. She takes charge, and risks everything for it. And despite what she loses, she recognizes what she’s gained, and that makes her all the more likeable.