By now, some of you may or may not have seen the film The Help, but in the event you haven’t, there’s no better time than the present to read Kathryn Stockett’s novel of the same title (Berkley/Penguin Publishing, 2009).
The Help tells the story of three African-American maids working white households in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s, told from the point of view of three narrators: Aibileen Clark, a middle-aged African-American maid who spent her life raising white children and recently lost her only son; Minny Jackson, an African-American maid whose back-talking her employers leads to frequent job changes, exacerbating her desperate need for work and well her family’s financial struggles; and Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, a young white woman and recent college graduate who discovers after returning home that a maid who helped raise her since childhood has abruptly disappeared and her attempts to find the maid have not been successful.
The Help is a well-written novel that is destined to be a classic of the future, drawing out characterization, race relations, interpersonal relationships between maids and the children of their employers, and the attitudes of the early 1960’s era shows a much different time from the more tolerant, politically correct society of today.
There are a few characters readers may tend to dislike, such as Hilly, the town “queen bee,” who looks down on non-whites and has an ambition of making sure every home in Jackson has a separate bathroom for the help to “save both blacks and whites from heinous diseases.”
On the other side of the spectrum, there is the enlightened Skeeter, an educated woman who has further ambitions, collecting each maid’s personal story. The results are harrowing, putting both maids and Skeeter in danger, and the maids question their occupations after the death of Medgar Evers.
The Help is a longer than average book, but worth reading from beginning to end, Though some degree of racism in the United States still exits, thankfully it is no longer with the intensity it was in the early 1960’s.
With the new school year underway, it is a book that should be placed on every required reading list for book reports, and proving that one cannot judge books (or people) by their covers. The film should also be worthy of an Oscar.