The Help is the startling yet wonderful tale of black maids in 1960s Mississippi as they write a book to show exactly what they are subject to daily from white employers. It is told by two maids, Minny and Abileen, and one white woman, Skeeter, who hides her passion for Civil Rights. You could argue that this is therefore a biased book, but other people in the story portray the racist nature of many at the time. Yet it needn’t: racism is topic of a one-sided nature anyway.
The way the story is written by the maids is supposed to be in the manner of how they spoke; such as “I done raised” or “Taking care a white babies”. Personally, I struggled with this in the beginning but, persevering, I got used to eat and (if this doesn’t seem cheesy) recognised the kind of rhythm of the speech. By the end, I was charmed by it and even slipping into it myself form speaking verbally.
Being a story about racism, the prime element of the narrative is interaction between people, and how these reactions differ. For example, the way Abileen originally acts towards Skeeter and how Minny is around her highlights the oddity of their arrangement. One line I liked, from Abileen I think, was that these were lines in their heads that they had to erase because they had led themselves to believe them. I liked the fact that every time this trio broke down a barrier between themselves, an unrelated event would always occur to contrast it to show just how racism wasn’t dead and that there were others still believing their prejudiced beliefs and symbolising the challenge they faced. Perhaps even the challenge they have overcome.
I personally felt that Abileen was the main character though because, important as Skeeter is, the book could never have been written without Abileen since she has a hand in everything. Her commitment and sorrow lead her to believe in and champion their book.
Her child-rearing is just adorable to watch as well. Mae Mobley (to me suggesting a bubbly child) asks the kind of question that the white people never asked their maids. This is one of Abileen’s lines. Yet Abileen answers them and more in seeking to help this child. Her stories for Mae Mobley made me smile and they highlight the main issues and items of the civil rights movement: such as the Martian, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or the story of two girls- one black, one white- deciding they must be the same because they have the same limbs. Yet the aspect of her telling Mae suggests where she saw the source of the problem: racist parents brought up their children to be the same. Abileen willingly risks her job for this because she cannot stand by and watch another loveable child, who she loves so dearly, become corrupted and begin treating her like dirt.
On a side note though, I did love Minny. She was SO funny and incredibly correct in her roundabout way. She is led by her own sense of morality and justice, though this costs her jobs since she cannot help but to speak up. Celia Foote only made Minny the better and more interesting because we could see how she herself was so indoctrinated by the racism, by the lines and unspoken rules, that she finds pleasant Mrs. Foote absurd.
The book is comedy-drama (apparently) and until I read it, I never would have believed a book could work with the subject matter. But Kathryn is witty and writes like a comedian writing a sketch sometimes. And though it is fiction, it has roots in fact: the writer confesses how she lived in Mississippi, had a black maid and thought nothing was wrong until she grew up. The section at the back where she explains this and talks about her Help makes clear some of her inspiration for Abileen and Minny.
I have only touched on what I like about this book: there is the ending, certain events, the other maids’ stories and a sprinkling of romance that only add to the book. I cannot believe that anyone could wish other than to read this because it is so easy to be drawn into it. It demonstrates that despite the way it appeared, most of America was very much ready for the move away from racism.
Do not miss this.
And by the way, I cannot wait to see the film here in the UK, and I’ve also heard the audio book is superb.