The Help by Kathryn Stockett has been really popular lately, especially now that the movie was made. So I decided to see what the fuss was all about. This isn’t the type of book that I normally read, but I decided to broaden my horizons all the same.
The Help takes place in Jackson, Mississippi during the early 1960’s. The wealthy white women of the town hire black women as maids and nannies for their children. The black people are often treated as second class citizens at best. It is not a good situation, and it’s made all the scarier thinking that these events happened recently within a historical context (both of my parents were alive in the 1960’s albeit very young – that fact really put this book into context for me).
The book centres around three women: the black maid Aibileen, her friend (and fellow maid) Minny, and the white woman Miss Skeeter. Skeeter is abnormal among her group of friends; she went off to school for the purpose of educating herself, not to snare herself a husband. Now that she’s back from school, she wants to be a writer. She sees how her friends treat the black women and doesn’t agree with this; she wants to change things in however small way she can. And this leads her to ask the other two women to help her write a book told from the black maids’ perspective. She wants to hear their stories, both good and bad, even if that means she will be ostracized from the people she grew up with.
The two black women have their own reasons for joining in this endeavour. They know that punishment for them will be much worse than anything Skeeter would have to endure. For Aibileen, a warm-hearted and kind woman, something seems to snap in her; she has seen too much during her lifetime and has had enough. After her son died, she has no family she will have to worry about should she be caught and punished.
But for Minny, it’s a whole other story. She has several kids whom she has to worry about feeding. And while she’s an excellent cook, she’s been fired many times because she sass talks to her white employers. Her reasons for helping are complicated, but help she does.
Together, these three women struggle to get other maids to help them with their book. In writing together they strike up a forbidden friendship, learning that no matter the colouring, they’re all just people and they’re all in this together. And that’s a lesson that everyone should learn.