“Enter a vanished world: Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. Where Black maids raise white children, but aren’t trusted not to steal the sliver…”
As reflected in the passage directly after the conclusion of the narrative The Help, Kathryn Stockett grew up in Jackson, Missisippi with her family and their maid, Demetrie. While she acknowledges that The Help is a ficitonal novel, Kathryn suggests that her impetus for The Help was her upbringing in Missisippi, acknowledging that as she wrote, she considered what Demetrie would have considered it. The Help has become widely popular, especially after 2011 when it was released as a feature film starring Emma Stone.
While each chapter focuses on varying points of view, The Help opens from Aibileen’s perspective. Aibileen is busy raising her seventeenth white child as she works as a maid for the Leefolt family. Over the course of the novel, Aibileen acts as central point as we meet her friend Minny (whose cooking is only just slightly more sassy than her attitude) and white woman Miss Skeeter (named for her tall and thin physique, like a mos’keeter), who is home from college and wondering why her beloved maid Constantine has disappeared. All three live in a town with long-seated values of race hierarchy. As they come together, they realise that they have the power to make serious change…
In my experience, novels that chop and change perspectives can be quite shallow, as we never get a decent chance to come to know or bond with the many characters and their perspectives. The Help is the absolute antithesis of this though; as each chapter swaps between characters, it mimics the gossip-factor of a small town and envelopes the reader as if they too are privy to the changes afoot. Instead of only receiving a single perspective, we see both White and Black perspectives, and we relate to and sympathise with both sides of the contextual hierarchical scales.
Kathryn Stockett’s characters are extremely likeable. Even though I personally didn’t relate to their struggles, I found myself enraptured by their tenacity and cheered on the fight for change. Unlike other novels set in this time-period, the “good guys” and “bad guys” weren’t necessarily distinguishable by their race. I think this greatly improved the novel; it can be sen as a fictional slice of history as opposed to a novel working to persuade the audience to “side” with any particular side. My personal favourite character was that of Miss Cecilia Foote, who just never seemed to get it right. I giggled at her various faux-pas and loved her for her heart.
|Celia Foote (image courtesy of Dreamworks Studios The Help)|
I think the other reason I love this novel is that there are lovely, delicious twists throughout it; it doesn’t flow as you would expect and therefore maintains its fresh attitude. For a novel based on events in our global history, I think this is very important. The Help does not flow as you would expect and keeps the audience wanting to read more.
The voices from each character are written loud and clear; as Kathryn Stockett writes, you can literally hear the voice clear as a bell in your head (although this did not translate when I read it aloud to Him, and He said I sounded like I was going deaf; cheeky!).
“Mister Raleigh Leefolt still at home this morning, which is rare. Whenever he here, he look like he just counting the minutes till he get go back to his accounting job. Even on Saturday. But today he carrying on bout something. ‘This is my damn house and I pay for what goddamn goes in it!’ Mister Leefolt yell.”
I honestly couldn’t rate this novel high enough; I enjoyed each minute and felt a sense of sadness as it ended as I just wanted to keep on reading Kathryn’s words and wrapping myself in her world.Where Can You Get It?
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