Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Help - A book review

(Please note, none of the language contained in this blog is meant to be offensive.  It is in keeping with the language used in the book.)

I recently finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  It is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960's.

I would like to start off by saying what a touching book this was, in so many ways.  There were also some awful parts to it, about how black people were treated dreadfully; as inferior to white people.  For me, this book was about courage.  How a white woman, Miss Skeeter, had the courage to find out what really went on in Jackson society.  How the black women had the courage to tell their stories, good and bad, only because they had hope that it could change things.

Aibileen was my favourite character in this novel.  The development of her character was so rich.  She recognized her own faults and obviously loved and missed her son who died working for the white man.  He was so unimportant in their eyes that they just dropped his dead body off at the black hospital.  The description of her mourning was so real and aching.  Her love was soulful and touching, she loved the children she cared for, her "white babies" as much as her own child.  She could not stand to stay with them too long, because eventually they became jaded, taught to hate coloured people.  At first she resisted telling her stories to Miss Skeeter, but somewhere she knew that change would come, but only in small steps.  By the end of the novel, she was telling stories to her white babies to try to teach them that colour does not matter.  What matters is that we are all people.   We saw a shining example of Aibileen's efforts at the end when Mae Mo says something like "Miss Taylor taught it!"  That 3 yr old girl knew she had to lie to her daddy to protect her Aibee, so in the end Aibileen was successful at making a small change in one person.  Maybe it would last, and maybe it wouldn't, but the risk was worth it for her. 

Surprisingly, my next favourite character was Celia Foote.  Although I felt, in part, that the author could have developed her character a little more, she showed that not all white people adhered to the lines between white and black people so vehemently.  There were some social norms that she just didn't understand.  She was paying Minny, her maid, double what other maids earned from other families.  Minny attributed it to what she called her "white trash" background.  I guess coming from a place like Sugar Ditch meant that everyone was in the same boat.  Likely poor as dirt across the board.  Not many white ladies in that novel would have fought so hard to save the life of a black maid.  Minny had already been beaten up by her husband, and she was ready to fight for Miss Celia, but Miss Celia ended up beating that sexual offender to almost a pulp to save Minny's life.  I could see Hilly, for example, closing the door and locking it and hiding in a closet to save her own skin rather than even think of helping the maid.

This was a great book.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  It provoked thought and surprising emotions about something I have never experienced.  Except that one time when someone said to me "You hate me because I'm black."  I have never hated anyone for that reason.  It still bugs me to this day.  However, this book has given me a little bit of insight as to why that person may have said that to me. 


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