The Help: Novel of prejudice and learning to trust
A tale of what race relations really were like in Mississippi
To truly understand prejudices it is imperative that we understand the origin of those feelings and assumptions before we can hope to get past them. When it comes to race relations in this country there are long seeded emotions rooted in history that drive those prejudices. The Help, written by Kathryn Stockett, provides a window into what it might have been like in the 1960s in rural Mississippi for not only for African American residents but also for the white residents that might have sympathized with their situation or just felt something was wrong. This fast and easy read is bound to have you thinking a little differently by the time you finish.
Image Credit: Audio Edition
A great story, with moral lessons to boot
Kathyn Stockett's novel The Help tells the tale of domestic help in the Deep South during the mid 1960s. This is the time of Martin Luther King, forced desegregation of schools and Rosa Parks on the bus. This is also the time of the KKK and egregious police brutality against anyone that dares speak against what was going on regardless of their race. The Help address all the emotions and morays of the time in a wrapper of a lighthearted story which aids in approaching very tough subjects in a way to disarm readers.
The story follows two primary maids whose duties range from cleaning the house, to caring for the children (in one case actually raising the children), and preparing the meals. What comes out is not just a story of what they do and how they do it, but the feelings they have when faced with random acts of kindness as well as the all too common brutality of the time. We see how they struggle to find a way through life without giving up their soul and core beliefs while also not upsetting the balance that existed between races in the south. What is particularly interesting about following the maids is how they have their own racial biases that they face toward a white woman who is honestly upset with how they are treated and is trying to change it. They can neither understand, nor can they easily trust another from outside their race. They have their own prejudices based on years of experiences, yet those are no less a prejudice.
And then we see the white families who utilized the domestic help and not only how they treat them but why. In some cases they have to hide acts of kindness for fear they will be taken advantage of or worse be shunned by the very community they long to integrate into. One needs to understand that in this period where the television is just starting to integrate into society, life was spent together with neighbors. To be ostracized from those around you is a punishment worse then death. Does this excuse some of their behavior? This is your opportunity to understand their perspective and answer that question for yourself.
The Help is a rapid page turner and an easy read for adults and young adults, but do yourself a favor and make sure you follow-up the completion of this book with time to reflect and study more of the time period. It is too easy to get wrapped in the warm embrace of the story and characters and miss the larger morals of the story. When was the last time you looked someone straight in the eye when you said "Thank you" and show genuine meaning behind those words? Probably not the last time you were at a coffee shop getting a latte. When was the last time you attempted to meet and become friends with a new person in your neighborhood, church or school and help them feel included into the community, especially if they appear to be a little different? This novel helps reflect on how important these little things are in life not just to the social structure of a community but also to just an individual normal everyday person. Take the time to read this book and reflect on yourself, can I make myself just a little better based on what I learn?