…by Kathryn Stockett.
Set in the 1960s in the small town of Jackson, Mississippi, ‘The Help’ is narratted by Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter. Aibileen and Minny are both black maids working for white women. Despite the big difference in their age, they are also the best of friends. Skeeter, whose real name is Eugenia Phelan, is a white girl in her early twenties dreaming of being a writer. While working for a local newspaper answering people’s questions about housekeeping and relationships, and missing her own maid who raised her when she was young, Skeeter hits upon an idea about what she can write — a story from the point of view of maids who work for white families, raising white children for them. To do this, she recruits the help of Aibileen who works for one of her best friends, Elizabeth Leefolt.
In a time when there is a clear legal distinction between blacks and whites, Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny are all taking a big risk by merely interacting with each other on an almost social level. Furthermore, they are likely to be in great trouble for even broaching a sensitive topic. After all, if a coloured man could be beaten till he is blind for using a ‘white’ toilet, who knows what would happen to the three women for writing about race issues?
The book delves into the risks the three women take to get the story of black maids out there, the risks Aibileen and Minny get into trying to recruit other maids to tell their stories and of course, the risk Skeeter takes going against what her friends Elizabeth and Hilly Holbrook, both high society ladies, and family appear to believe in. And most importantly, it looks into the formation of an unusual friendship between three women crossing the boundaries of their time.
What stories do the maids have to tell?
How do people react upon the release of the book?
What are the repercussions for Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter?
All this and so much more is explored beautifully in this debut novel by Stockett. The race issues in the deep south and the hypocrisy of society are amazingly portrayed. Not only does the book look into the division between blacks and whites, it also looks at the division between the high society white people and the so-called ‘white trash’. While there still is a bit of that sense of the white person saving the black, I did think the characters of both Aibileen and Minny were portrayed beautifully with several strengths. The book manages to grip you right from the very beginning with moments of suspense, laughter and sadness.
All in all, I’d highly recommend it!
Until next time,