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"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett
A Book Review of "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett
"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett is a novel set in Mississippi during the most turbulent period of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s and explores the relationships between wealthy white families and their African-American maids. Although it is a fictional story, from the comments of others who have read the book and from interviews with the author, I think the book accurately reflects life and race relations in Mississippi in the 1960s.
As someone who has never lived in the south, in addition to being an entertaining and engrossing story, I found the book to have value by increasing my knowledge and understanding of a culture and way of life that is totally unfamiliar to me.
The story is told from several character's perspectives. Skeeter Phelan, a young, weathy white woman returns home to Jackson, Mississippi after being away at college with her degree and an independent streak that takes her on a different path than what is expected of her by family and friends. Instead of finding a wealthy husband from a suitable family and settling down to a life of having children, playing bridge and attending Jackson League social events, Skeeter wants to have a career as a writer. After some suggestions are given to her from a publisher in New York, she decides to write a book about the lives of African-American maids in the south.
The main character of the story is Aibileen, an African-American maid who reluctantly agrees to talk to Skeeter about her life. We are introduced to Aibileen's best friend Minny and several other maids. We also become acquainted with Skeeter's white female friends both from Skeeter's perspective and from the perspective of their black maids who know all of their secrets. As Aibileen and Skeeter meet clandestinely their friendship grows and it becomes clear that anything that challenges the status quo in Jackson, Mississippi can be dangerous for everyone involved. Although the subject matter is serious, the story is told with warmth, humor and suspense. Will the book they are working on ever be published? And if it is, how will it change their lives and will the town of Jackson ever be the same?
Don't worry, if you haven't yet read the book, there are no story spoilers in my review - you'll have to read it yourself to find out what happens!
The Life of an African-American Maid in Mississippi in the 1960s
The main character in "The Help" is African-American maid, Aibileen. Through her we meet her best friend, Minny and some of the other maids. We see a different view of Jackson through their eyes as they ride the bus back and forth each day to the homes of Skeeter's friends to care for their children, clean their houses and prepare their meals, but aren't allowed to use the same bathroom. They come home each night tired from working each day to stressful situations in their own families. The turmoil of the times is illustrated in the book with several incidents that affect the lives of Aibileen and Minny, the other maids and their families.
The above photo from the Library of Congress was taken in Mississippi. It was used as the book cover illustration for some books published for distribution in the UK, but even in 2009, it was deemed to be potentially too controversial to be used as the book cover in the US.
Skeeter Phelan's Friends
On the other side of Jackson are the wealthy white women in Skeeter Phelan's circle of friends. They are at the center of Jackson's society, power and politics. As the foundation of Jackson's social elite, they remind me of the Confederate Women Monument that sits in front of the Mississippi Capitol Building in Jackson.
The main white characters include the mean, manipulative and vindictive Hilly Hollbrook, the insecure Elizabeth Leefolt who cares more about her social standing than her daughter Mae Mobley and social outcast Celia Foote, who married Hilly's wealthy former boyfriend John Foote, but is an outsider from the backwoods country of Sugar Ditch.
Widow and Child of Civil Rights Activist Medgar Evers
The Murder of Medgar Evers
The book storyline weaves in some of the actual events of the time to illustrate the real dangers to those who worked for change. One example of a historical event that was included in the book was the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers which occurred in Jackson, Mississippi in 1963. Although the story is about serious topics, the book is not without humor. I laughed out loud several times, with much of the comedy provided by Minny's spirited personality.
Author, Kathryn StockettClick thumbnail to view full-size
About Author Kathryn Stockett
Kathryn Stockett was born in 1969 in Jackson Mississippi and grew up there until leaving to attend colliege at the University of Alabama. She graduated with a degree in English and creative writing and moved to New York where she worked in the magazine publishing industry for over nine years. She currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and daughter. "The Help" is Kathryn Stockett's first novel. It took over 5 years to write and the manuscript was rejected over 50 times. After it was finally published in 2009 it went straight into the American bestseller lists.
In interviews she admits that although The Help is fiction, the character of Skeeter is somewhat autobiographical. Kathryn Stockett tells interviewers that she, like Skeeter, was influenced in a positive way by the relationship she had with the African-American maid that worked for her family while she was growing up.
An Interview with the Author of "The Help"
What did you think of the book "The Help"?
If you read "The Help", did you love it or hate it?
The Help - The Movie
The Help was such a successful book that it has now been made into a movie that was released in 2011. I've watched it and as is common with many films that are based on books, there are some good parts that were left out. Since I'm a person who loves to read, I preferred the book, but I thought the casting was excellent and the movie was very entertaining. In this trailer you can get a glimpse of some of the main characters.