My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Help is one of the most amazing stories of our past and one of the most important to remember for our future. It took me ten days to read but with a crazy busy schedule, I was more or less forced to stop reading each night at 2 or 3 in the morning. Kathryn Stockett has created characters that feel like friends, settings that feel like home, and the racial tension of the 1960s is almost as palpable and suffocating as the Mississippi summer heat.
The story opens with Aibeleen, a black maid raising her 17th white baby. Once a quiet and obedient woman in regard to her duties as a maid, the death of Aibeleen’s 23-year-old son has caused something inside her to snap and it has broken her silence. Her will to obey white folk without question has been shattered. She has so much to say, but as a poor, black woman, Aibeleen has no means by which to speak.
As the saying goes, opposites attract and this stays true with Minny, Aibeleen’s best friend and partner in crime. Minny is a strong-willed, no-nonsense woman with a secret weapon: her cooking. Minny is a sassy woman who doesn’t have patience with many of the white women and has lost many a job because of it. She is as loyal a friend as they come, but God have mercy on the soul of any white woman who crosses Minny Jackson.
Eugenia Phelan, more often known as Skeeter (much to her mother’s dismay) is a tall, gawky woman with a college degree in journalism but no marriage prospects (also to her mother’s dismay). Skeeter has so much to say and give to the world, but nobody wants to hire a woman writer (unless she’s writing about housekeeping). Tired of the humdrum of daily life and spurred by a “dear” friend’s racist county health initiative, Skeeter suddenly finds herself unable to keep quiet any longer.
Celia Foote mixes things up a bit. She is the opposite of Skeeter in class and pedigree, however, she shares many of the same thoughts and feelings toward the racial divide. It is because of her “white trash” label that Celia’s views go unnoticed by Skeeter. Since she comes from a trailer park, Celia has never hired a maid, she does not understand the “rules”. However, when Celia hires Minny to cook and do the housekeeping, neither of the women realize the bond they will soon form.
Hilly Holbrook rounds out the main cast of characters. She is the “spark” that starts the fire in Jackson. She is all push and no pull (unless she is trying to pull you over to her side). She is portrayed as the white Southern belle with the ingrained belief that black people are not as good as whites, verbalized as “separate but equal” so it doesn’t sound racist. Hilly is the leader and every woman in Jackson wants to follow her, whether they believe what she says or not.
The story that unfolds in Jackson, Mississippi is gut-wrenching, humorous, and real. Stockett includes many real people and events in the novel, adding a stark reality to the story. This story could be anyone’s story. It could have happened just as it plays out in the book. The truth is, it did happen. Humans, just like you and me, were thought to be “diseased” and “wild” just because their skin was a different color.
I have never read a book more real and more moving than The Help. It is a tale of disgrace and redemption in America. It is a story of love, caring, compassion, as well as hate, distrust, and disgust. I was floored by how I could be so moved by a story that happened in a time and place I have never known. It was unbelievable and everyone should try to read it at least once because there is a lesson in the characters in the story. We must all work together to be less like Hilly and more like Skeeter. We cannot let something as minor as skin color or sexuality define how we interact with each other. We are all humans. We must all work together for the common good. We cannot let segregation of any kind happen ever again.