Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Penguin Group, 2009
Hardcover , 464 pages
ISBN-13: 9780399155345
very highly recommended

Be prepared to meet three unforgettable women:
Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.
Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
My Thoughts:

Kathryn Stockett's debut novel, The Help, is set in segregated Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960's. The chapters are told from the point of view of three characters: two black maids, Aibileen and Minny, and one wealthy young white woman, Skeeter, who is a recent college graduate.

Aibileen is an intelligent black woman in her early 50's who happens to work for one of Skeeter's best friends. Minny is in her 30's and Aibileen's best friend. She has trouble not sassing the white women she has worked for and has angered one of Skeeter's most racist friends. Skeeter is a naive, aspiring writer who stumbles onto the idea of secretly interviewing local black maids about their work for white employers for a book. Even though the interviews are going to be published anonymously with names changed, the risk is great.

The Help is an entertaining book with several tension filled moments and seemingly portrays to a great extent what life was like for the black maids in the 60's. Stockett is to be commended for including some incidents of the violence done to others during that time period and attempting to make the risk everyone was taking feel real. I very much enjoyed the alternating viewpoint between the three characters and was totally engrossed in the story. Sockett's focusing on women from different backgrounds was effective, as was her portrayal of how an angry white woman displays her destructive wrath.

I found a few parts that just didn't ring true to me. For example, I found it difficult to believe in the beginning that Skeeter could be so naive regarding the racism of her friends and it was annoying. How could she be living in Mississippi in the 60's and not realize that there were lynchings, beatings, and examples of violent racism all around her? It also seemed unlikely that woman with such unequal power (Skeeter and Aibileen) would become friends. The ending, while it ties almost everything up nicely, also was a bit far fetched.

However, it does succeed in showing that we are all more alike than different. I thought it was a well written, thought provoking novel and I'm glad I read it.
very highly recommended


Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August, 1960. A church baby we like to call it. Taking care a white babies, that's what I do, along with the cooking and the cleaning. opening

Fact, her whole body be so full a sharp knobs and corners, it's no wonder she can't soothe that baby. Babies like fat. Like to bury they face up in you armpit and go to sleep. They like big fat legs too. That I know. pg. 2

But it weren't too long before I seen something in me had changed. A bitter seed was planted inside me. And I just didn't feel so accepting anymore. pg. 3

But the help always know. pg. 4

"Minny," I say last Sunday, "why Bertrina ask me to pray for her?"
We walking home from the one o'clock service. Minny say, "Rumor is you got some kind a power prayer, gets better results than just the regular variety." pg. 23

Which reminds me a what I don't want a think about, that Miss Leefolt's building me a bathroom cause she think I'm diseased. And Miss Skeeter asking don't I want to change things, like changing Jackson, Mississippi, gone be like changing a lightbulb. pg. 24


Standing on that white lady's back porch, I tell myself, Tuck it in, Minny. Tuck in whatever might fly out my mouth and tuck in my behind too. Look like a maid who does what she's told. Truth is, I'm so nervous right now, I'd never backtalk again if it meant I'd get this job. pg. 30

Minny's mama's rules for working for a white lady:
"Rule Number One for working for a white lady, Minny: it is nobody's business. You keep your nose out of your White Lady's problems,you don't go crying to her with yours....Remember one thing: white people are not your friends....
Rule Number Two: don't you ever let that White Lady find you sitting on her toilet....
Rule Number Three: when you're cooking white people's food, you taste it with a different spoon....
Rule Number Four: You use the same cup, same fork, same plate every day. Keep it in a separate cupboard and tell that white woman that's the one you'll use from here on out.
Rule Number Five: you eat in the kitchen.
Rule Number Six: you don't hit on her children. White people like to do their own spanking.
Rule Number Seven: ....No sass-mouthing. pg. 38-39


I drive my mama's Cadillac fast on the gravel road, headed home. Patsy Cline can't even be heard on the radio anymore, for all the rocks banging on the side of the car. Mother would be furious, but I just drive faster. I can't stop thinking about what Hilly said to me today at bridge club. pg. 54

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