Sorry to keep you so long without a review! We have all taken a (well deserved?) break for the summer. I hope you stick with us as we all try and get back on track with our schedules. I am now back in the UK after spending six months in Alabama so I spent some time adapting back into British life, mainly the cold weather. Lol. Rose, Sarah and I are all going into our final year of University in September so are all busy bees. Hopefully we remain on schedule, but please forgive us if we miss a post or two (or three, or four)! With no further ado, let’s get on with the show!
Set in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, The Help follows three women in their bid to ‘change things’ in their community. The black maids of their community write about what it is like to raise white children from white families whilst living in segregated America. The reader is invited to really see the real life repercussions segregation and racism has for black people in the South. The first person perspectives add a level of proximity, making the events of the novel even more moving. I have seen the movie so I thought it was time to read the novel. I’m only about seven years late to the party, but better late than never, eh?
The three narrators of the novel are Aibileen, Minny and Miss Skeeter and they are all equally refreshing. Minny was, for me, the most interesting character. Not only was her character a large part of the book’s humour, but she also showed the consequences of being forced to live in a segregated society that openly discriminates and hates you for the pigmentation of your skin. Stockett gives her character all the tools to be a big success in life but instead she is stuck voicing her stories anonymously through someone else.
Aibileen was the most prominent character. The oldest and also the wisest, Aibileen had survived the worst thing any mother could experience. Her character was the most tangible because even when she was celebrating small victories or happiness, there was an air of sadness around her character. I appreciated Stockett’s ability to make her real, with authentic emotions and convictions. At the times she appeared to be at her bravest, she was also the most vulnerable. The last chapter of the book really exposed everything Aibileen had fought so hard for. Even though she seemingly loses it all, the ending is hopeful. All three characters are on the verge of cultivating fresh lives for themselves.
Miss Skeeter is interesting as she is the only white narrator. Her role in the novel is to lend the women of colour the platform they don’t have access to in order to get their voices finally heard. She, for many white readers, is also their entryway into the novel. She represents ordinary people who have never thought to question what it is like to be black in the South. After graduating university, Skeeter returns to her hometown with an open perspective. The detachment she now feels enables her to take a step back and acknowledge and question the inequality around her. As she learns and grows, so does (hopefully) the reader.
Whilst reading The Help, I had one small misgiving about it. The whole novel was about the black women of Jackson, Mississippi having their voices finally heard. However, because of the focus on empowering yourself through telling your lived experiences, I found it slightly ironic that the book is in fact written by a white woman. Clearly Kathryn Stockett has first hand experiences growing up in Mississippi and therefore her knowledge on the subject is well informed. This is proven in her ability to mix the factual elements of life in the 1960s with the fictional elements of the novel. However, as Stockett acknowledges herself at the end of her novel, she cannot presume to know what it is like being a woman of colour in the South. For me, the fact that there isn’t a well known book on the same subject published by a black woman who really lived on the other side of Stockett’s experiences is telling. It indicates to me that the case isn’t closed yet and women from all lived experiences need to keep fighting for their voices to be heard.