Tuesday, July 27, 2010

THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett (2009)

A New York Times bestseller, THE HELP follows Miss Skeeter, a recent university grad who returns to her Jackson, Mississippi ante-bellum home with hopes of finding a job in publishing in the wider world. It is 1962 and the Civil Rights movement is blossoming with sit-ins at lunch counters, public marches led by Dr. King and Rosa Parks sitting where her tired bones need to on a segregated bus. Yet, all Skeeter hears about from her mother and her girlfriends is constant nagging about securing a suitable husband and their challenges with their coloured maids.

Aibileen, a wise black maid raising her 17th white child, is the vocal counterpoint to Miss Skeeter and it's through their clandestine collaboration that more than just the two of them could get in hot water. Although Miss Skeeter is progressive in her ideas about civil rights and the value of all people regardless of skin colour, most of her peers continue to believe that their coloured help who raise their white children are less than equal and even insist that they use separate washrooms built especially for them.

THE HELP is an artifact of Southern ways--times through which white women both depended on and resented their hired coloured help and felt entitled to treat them as if they were personal slaves. It is also the story of a dissenting voice who values the genuine relationships that those same undervalued and hardworking women have with the children in their care.

1 comment:

jeanne said...

Janet I read this book recently for my book club and it was an amazing discussion that night--one of the best we'd had in a long time. We actually talked about the book most of the evening (much longer than usual). In addition to the expected topics around racial hatred and intolerance, we discussed the role of maids and nannnies, and, much to the surprise of most of the women there, we discovered that two of our friends had basically been raised by maids, and in one case, her relationship with the maid was much closer than that with her own mother. What an interesting evening. So many things to talk about stemming from that book, in so many areas.