by Kathryn Stockett
reviewed by Lauren Bolte
The Help, a riveting novel by Kathryn Stockett, tells the stories of women living very different lives in 1960s Mississippi. Their contrasting personalities and backgrounds help to expand their relationships and open theirs and others’ eyes to the effects of racial discrimination. Secrets, opinions, and revenge all play crucial parts in breaking down and building walls between maids and their employers. The main characters find themselves stuck in a time where their characteristics are seen as unacceptable and socially offensive.
With the Civil Rights movement in full swing and racial tension at an all-time high, women in Mississippi have trouble deciding whose side they should take on many different types of issues. For Skeeter Phelan, her mother’s opinions and views heavily weight her decisions. She is caught between pleasing her family and following her dreams of becoming a writer, as well as becoming a feminist and civil rights activist. While her friends spend their time shopping and prepping themselves for parties, she gains respect from the maids in the neighborhood by showing interest in their lives and well being. She grows especially close with Aibileen, Elizabeth’s maid. They both have connections to Constantine, Skeeter’s old caretaker. They work together, somewhat skeptically in the beginning, to create better relations between maids and their employers. Skeeter’s idea to write a book about the true lives and opinions of maids in the area is extremely controversial, and causes many issues with her close family and friends. Disapproval is shown extensively, and many difficult situations arise throughout their journey to create awareness for African American working situations in the South. Minny, Aibileen’s audacious best friend, is also a part of the plan, and her secret about her employer Hilly resurfaces near the end of the story, causing distrust and agitation with the local women. As a unique group of friends, the women become very successful, breaking strong barriers in terms of how relationships should be between white and African American women in the South.
Kathryn Stockett uses many literary devices and ideas to uniquely depict 1960s life in Mississippi. As a reader without much knowledge of southern life, her descriptions of the characters and their relationships are very easy to follow and clear throughout the novel. Direct and indirect characterization are used to describe the characters, but not give away too much about their opinions and viewpoints in the story. This allows for the reader to make suggestions and inferences, creating a unique reading experience for each one. For example, Aibileen shows her strength and caring personality directly by nurturing her employer’s child, and the says the child “got to smiling up at me like she do (Stockett 1). Her weakness is shown when she talks about her deceased son, Treelore. The day he died she explains “That was the day my whole world went black. Air look black, sun look black” (Stockett 3). It is not directly noticed, but the reader can ascertain that this weakness will be prevalent throughout the entire novel. Kathryn Stockett’s use of different kinds of characterization creates a much more riveting and unique experience for the reader.
The Help is based on a very mature topic; however, it is written in a way that many readers will be able to understand and enjoy. The characters are relatable in small ways throughout the novel, and this creates a great opportunity for deeper analysis and interpretation. I would absolutely recommend this novel for anyone who is interested in historical fiction with very controversial topics that are expressed throughout the storyline. The situations that the characters are put in truly open your eyes to new ideas and perspectives, and the characters’ stories are not only interesting, but also very informing. Overall, The Help is a fantastic novel that is great for mature and attentive readers.