In 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, relations between white society ladies and their black maids have been the same for decades. Black maids clean the house from top to bottom weekly, serve luncheons to their mistress and her friends, and raise their mistress’ children. But not every black maid is the same. Aibileen, quiet and insecure, takes whatever insults are hurled at her. Her best friend, Minny, however, gives back as good as she’s given—with varying consequences. Then there’s Miss Skeeter. She’s one of the few society ladies who treats the black maids like they’re human, but she’s always asking questions—questions no one is supposed to ask. Will these three unique, but very different ladies be able to work together to change their lives as they know it? Or will things stay the same as it’s always been in Jackson?
I read this book for my own personal pleasure and was not required to write a review. Therefore, all comments and opinions are entirely my own.
Two years ago I wrote a short story that took place during the Civil War for a contest. In it, I wanted to challenge the perspectives and worldviews of both the Confederacy and the Union; the blacks and the whites. I didn’t feel like there were enough conversations happening where we brought to light the right and wrong of both sides. Well, I might have felt differently if I’d read The Help sooner.
I went into The Help expecting to learn about what it was like being a black maid in the 1960s. And I was genuinely curious to find out. It’s one thing to learn about the Civil Rights movement in a textbook, but another to read a book written in the perspective of these women, learning what it was like first-hand. Let’s just say it delivered.
I felt like I was really there—feeling the heat of the Mississippi sun and the burn of the horrible comments they received from their employers. It was strange to observe the white women these black maids (Aibileen and Minny) worked for. On the one hand, they spoke to them politely, but on the other hand, they treated them like some other species carrying a disease. And yet, these interactions were still within the realm of my expectations.
What really surprised me was that I was also in the perspective of a white woman (Miss Skeeter) and simultaneously given a peek into her world. In doing this, I was not only shown the prejudices white women held against black women, but against white women, too—those that are poorer, have lower social status or are civil rights activists. Basically, white women who are different than the status quo. On the flip side, by going back and forth between these two perspectives (a white woman and two black maids), I noticed that some of the black maids were prejudiced against Miss Skeeter—sometimes more than she was prejudiced against them.
Prejudice doesn’t exist just on one side of the equation. That’s the deep truth this book helped to bring to life.
Therefore, I believe this book gave me the most three-dimensional and realistic view of the Civil Rights situation than any other book I’d ever read. I loved how Stockett showed me the good and bad of the times. The horrible things the white people did and the beautiful things they did. And the sweet relationships the black maids had with the white children they were nannying. Like every other time period in our nation’s history, things are never just black and white.
Now to get into the actual story. I loved pretty much all our main characters. Aibileen, sweet and demure; Minny, sarcastic and savage; Miss Skeeter, introverted and clumsy; Miss Celia, ditsy yet sincere; and even little Mae Mobley. Each of these characters felt so real, I sometimes felt like I was reading a biography instead of a novel. It’s hard to get into what I really liked about the subplots of each of these characters without spoiling, but let’s just say I was really captivated by the depth of the relationships, like between Aibileen and Miss Skeeter or Minny and Miss Celia. These relationships demonstrated that the tension that can exist between black maids and their white mistresses don’t always exist. And in each of their own ways, Aibileen, Minny and Miss Skeeter had to come to terms with themselves: their strengths, their weakness, and especially their dreams. For different reasons, Aibileen, Minny and even Miss Skeeter had denied themselves their dreams for years, usually because they seemed impossible. As the old saying goes, they learned that they had to be the change they wanted to see.
The movie trailer (2011).
One of the biggest things I walked away with was a scene between Miss Skeeter and her mom. Her mom finally revealed why their family’s maid, Constantine, had up and left a couple years ago without so much as a goodbye. In that moment, her mom, Mrs. Phelan, tried so hard to justify the words she’d said to Constantine and the actions she’d done against her. But Miss Skeeter had changed so much over the course of the novel, that by the time she’d heard Mrs. Phelan’s story, the wrongness of her actions was made painfully clear. And right then, Miss Skeeter realized you can love someone greatly, but still disagree in their beliefs to the same degree. Someone can mean so much to you and yet be guilty of something terrible. That’s the reality of life back then and even now.
In conclusion, I give The Help 5 out of 5 stars. I think this book is really important, especially in order to better understand the Civil Rights Movement. Because of language and a few disturbing descriptions of terror against blacks, I would recommend The Help to ages 16 and older.
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