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The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Now, close your eyes and breathe deep to take yourself to a place in the deep, south cotton plantations of Mississippi. The year is 1962 and integration has hardly begun. Most white women rarely finish college because their place is in the home. They become young mothers, some more successful than others and many can afford the luxury to hire help. Slaves have been free for over one hundred years, but something that has not died with slavery is the typical mammy figure, a big strong black woman that takes care and nurtures the children of white women.

Most likely, the mammy figure is who Stockett was referring to as The Help. The definite article “the” in front of the word “help” universalizes each individual black woman, making much less than minimum wage, into one substance representing the mistreatment of African Americans in the time of segregation. Or could Stockett have been referring to the rising help for these women?

One young white woman, Skeeter goes against the grain. Even though she grew up on one of the biggest and most fabulous cotton plantations in Mississippi her attachment to the maid that raised her, Constantine, has produced sympathy for the other maids around town. Much against her mother’s wishes Skeeter graduates college and decides to become a writer. Paying special attention to how her friends treat their black maids after they proclaim they need a separate bathroom, Skeeter decides the interview maids and collect stories about their work. Few maids agree to help and as the book goes on naïve Skeeter realizes more and more how dangerous of a project this book is, especially when she learns in her town a young black man was blinded just for accidently using the wrong toilet. However, if Skeeter’s project succeeds than this book may become a breakthrough in integration.

Stockett tells this tale using the first person of three different voices, two from maids, Aibileen and Minnie, and one from Skeeter. Not only does is she successful in creating these three separate women distinct personalities, but she also manages the southern maid’s dialect. It took me about two pages to get used to it, but that problem was easily solved as I said the words out loud to myself and it brought this time, these characters and their way of speaking alive. It is truly an original style. As Skeeter says within the book “Everyone knows how we white people feel, the glorified Mammy figure who dedicates her whole life to a white family. Margaret Mitchell covered that. But no one ever asked Mammy how she felt about it.” Well, everyone knows how the mammy character spoke, but until now I have never seen her dialect tell a story in first person. It is absolutely beautiful and astonishing that Stockett has pulled this off.

This book also shines in originality from many of the books I have read during times of segregation, because it demonstrates the complicated relationship between the maid and her employer, or the maid and the child she raised. It shows the maid did not necessarily hate her employer and the employer did not always treat her help bad. In fact, Stockett has succeeded in showing the complication of relationships between women in general, whether it is a class difference between Ceilia and Miss Hilly, or the respectful admiration Skeeter must carry for her mother, simply because she is her mother no matter how she has treated anyone.

I will not give the ending away, but let me just say this it is open ended. Not in a way where I was left unsatisfied or unhappy with the results, but in a way where I enjoyed reading Kathryn Stockett’s book so much I would not mind a sequel.