Silent victory in 1960s Mississippi in ‘The Help’
September 23, 2011
Take a leap back into a different time; a time where whites and blacks were forbidden to speak, and could be thrown into jail if they did so. A time where everyone was separated. Take this leap backwards in Kathryn Stockett’s compelling novel, “The Help.”
“The Help” is a story about African American domestic servants working for white families in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. The book is told from the perspective of three main women: Skeeter Phelan, Aibileen Clark, and Minny Jackson. Aibileen is a soft, nurturing African American maid, whose primary job in the book is to tend to the household of Elizabeth Leefolt and to take care of her daughter, Mae Mobley. Jackson is the confrontational one of the three. She is Aibileen’s close friend and often gets fired for telling her employers exactly what she thinks about them. Finally, Skeeter Phelan is a 24-year-old white woman and the master behind the plan to expose what truly goes on in Jackson.
While her friends are sitting back, smoking cigarettes and playing bridge, Skeeter is doing something different. She is a tenacious young woman that is slaving away at a book that reveals how over worked and under appreciated the black maids really are. Skeeter names the town Niceville, but it won’t be nice at all. This book will cause her sorority sisters to go mad if “The Help” ever sees the light of day. Even though the black maids’ lives are at stake, it is the white residents of Jackson who are at the real disadvantage. The readers will side with “The Help,” with hankies at hand, after reading the cruel and awful insults spoken by their self centered, racist employers. Miss Hilly is the worst boss of all. She is Minny’s employer and treats every maid like a thief. She campaigns to have all households in Jackson install extra toilets for the colored help. She claims that they carry different diseases than white people, and this will cause the white children to get sick. Miss Hilly’s Junior League fundraises for the poor starving children of Africa while treating the African Americans of Jackson as less than human. Hilly makes herself the arch nemesis of every black citizen in Jackson, as well as many of the white citizens.
Aibileen Clark is the most wonderful character in the book. She is maternal and kind, and she treats every white child she has ever cared for as if they were her own. Aibileen is in charge of the toddler Mae Mobley Leefolt, who is the eldest child of Elizabeth Leefolt. She treats Mae Mobley like a princess, and throughout the book, Aibileen says to Mae Mobley, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” Stockett was also raised by a black woman, named Demetrie. She loved Demetrie very much, and “The Help” was a way to fill the gap of not knowing much about Demetrie’s life.
“The Help” could have gone a completely different way than it did. This book could have turned into a violent outrage sparked by the maids’ honesty. However, Stockett decided to dig deeper. She was much more interested in the affection and the relationships formed in the most unlikely ways between two people, rather than on the consequences of speaking the truth. “The Help” is a book for everyone. It is a book for those who have lost someone dear to them, as Skeeter did. It is a book for those who wish to learn more about segregation in white southern households, and finally, it is a book that makes the readers remember what is truly important in life. Travel back in time with “The Help” and get an inside look on an unlikely friendship.
Samantha Harkness is a journalism major at UW-River Falls. She loves reading, writing and watching movies.