Friday, March 5, 2010

"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Set in the early 1960's in Jackson, Mississippi this novel deals with the culture of southern white people and their attitudes toward blacks, many of whom are their domestic help. The central figure, Skeeter, is a young college graduate looking for more out of life than what is expected of her, marriage, children, charity work, tennis, etc. She knows she is different from her friends who have married and started their families and are on their way to becoming the next generation of the women their mothers were.

Skeeter is challenged to find a topic that inspires passion in her to write about. She eventually decides to write the stories of the town's domestic help, exposing what it is like to be a second class citizen, thought to be less intelligent and carry diseases that would harm white people. Finding women who will tell their stories is just the first challenge. The south at this time is a violent, unsafe place for any colored person who does not know his place and behave accordingly.

Skeeter herself was raised by a black woman for whom she holds very strong affection. When she returns home from college this woman she loves is gone, no longer working for her family, and no one will tell her why she left. She begins to see the dichotomy of hiring people who her class thinks of as "dirty" to clean their homes, prepare their meals and even raise their children. And worse, the love the children and domestic help feel for each other slips away as the children in turn fill the roles of the parents and assume the same attitudes toward the help.

Skeeter's project becomes a reality and a way is established for the help and Skeeter to come together to record their stories. Tension builds through the book with events such as the slaying of Medgar Evers, local violence and the constant worry of the eventual affect of the published book.

Stockett tells the story through the voice of Skeeter and two black women, Aibilene and Minny. I felt she did a good job portraying each of these women, not only in their different skins, but their different cultures, both socially and personally. As much as the story dealt with the race issue, it also explored a culture that can only exist as long as all minds think alike and the ostracisim that must take place of a diverse view.

I loved the book and it's story. I experienced a wide variety of emotions, crying for pain and joy, laughing, cheering and jeering. The characters were convincing and believable. The ending was both sad and hopeful and I find myself wandering back into that world and wondering what they are all doing now.

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