Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett

There has been a lot of buzz about Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel, The Help.  At the time of this writing, the book has been on the New York Times Best Sellers list for ninety-nine weeks.  It is soon to be a major motion picture.  I read so many rave reviews about this book, I decided to pick it up and read it.  Since then, I haven’t been able to stop talking about it.

This novel is about black maids in Mississippi during the 1960’s.  At that time in the southern United States, race relations were extremely strained.  Color lines were very clearly defined.  It was gravely dangerous to cross those color lines.  However, three very extraordinary women make the decision to do just that – cross the line.  These women muster up the courage to make a change.  Their bravery is inspiring. 

Stockett has created three main characters – Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny.  Skeeter was raised by a black maid.  Aibileen and Minny are black maids.  Their lives are very different, but they can relate to each other.  They come together on a secret project that will put all of them at great risk.  In the end, they find out that not much separates them.  At least, not as much as they thought.  The story is told from the viewpoint of each of these women.

The Help took me on an emotional roller coaster.  I felt anger, despair, hope and appreciation.  As a black woman, I could relate to the struggles to a certain degree.  I did not grow up in the South.  Therefore, I did not have the same experiences as the characters in this story.  Reading this book made me very curious.  I asked several relatives about their past experiences with race relations.  It really helped me to appreciate how far blacks have come in a short period of time.

Stockett was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi.  She knows what she writes about.  Honestly, I was surprised when I found out that the author of this book is white.  It made me wonder why she would write a book like this.  At the end of the book, Stockett explains: “I don't presume to think that I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially the 1960's.  I don't think it is something any white woman, on the other end of a black woman's paycheck, could ever truly understand.  But trying to understand is vital to our humanity.  I'm pretty sure I can say that no one in my family ever asked Demetrie (her family maid) what it felt like to be black in Mississippi working for our white family.  It never occurred to us to ask.  It was everyday life.  It wasn't something people felt compelled to examine.  I have wished, for many years, that I'd been old enough and thoughtful enough to ask Demetrie that question.  She died when I was sixteen.  I've spent years imagining what her answer would be.  And that is why I wrote this book.”

We all belong to one race – the human race.  If everyone would simply recognize that fact, racism would cease to exist.  The Help makes it clear that we are all just people.  I enjoyed reading Stockett’s novel and I’m sure you will, too.


miss june said...

Nia, I really enjoyed reading your review of this book and your reaction to the book. I haven't read it yet, but just reading your comments make me want to read it. I can't wait!!!

Anonymous said...

Last month in the New York Times, there was an article about a Black woman who was suing Kathryn Stockett, claiming one of the characters was based on her and that one of Ms. Stockett's brothers approved of the lawsuit. I am not a fan of the book, The Help. I wonder if it would have received as much attention had a Black woman wrote the book