The Help

Summary

The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi during August of 1962. The protagonist, Eugenia Skeeter Phelan is a well-off-white woman in her early twenties. Throughout her childhood, Skeeter developed a strong friendship with her black maid Constantine Jefferson, establishing her non-prejudiced disposition for the future. Attempting to become an author, Skeeter begins working for a local writing company where she is assigned the position of writing about housekeeping. Inspired by racial injustice, she secretly interviews maids Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson to obtain the factual experiences that maids of color endure. She complies their stories and ten other maids’ stories into a book called The Help. Majority of the novel consist of Skeeter gathering information from twelve different maids, focusing the novel’s perspective on the black maids working in the private white homes. After much adversity, Skeeter finishes her book and sends it for publication in New York. Although Skeeter enjoys her successful publication, she is most satisfied with leaving Jackson a better place than before she found it because she was able to publish the unfair, discriminating behavior towards black maids throughout Jackson, Mississippi.

Biography

The best word to describe the life of Kathryn Stockett is righteous. Although she grew up in Jackson, Mississippi during the 1970s when racism was rampant, Stockett did not allow local prejudices to become a part of her identity. After graduating from the University of Alabama with a degree in creative writing and English, she spent a couple of years working for a publishing company in New York, but eventually returned to her home in the South. Upon her return, Stockett was inspired by her childhood experiences with her grandmother’s maid Demetrie to author The Help, which addresses controversial subject matters like the relationship dynamic between white families and their black maids. She wanted to convey a fictional, humorist novel that revealed the serious reality of the racial inequality between whites and blacks that took place throughout her home town and America. In general, writing a novel about racial discrimination is very difficult because the subject is so sensitive, but explaining events and someone else’s personal experiences enhances the complications and worries. However, her strong childhood relationship with Demetrie provided her the courage to continue writing and finish the novel. She opened herself up to the public’s harsh criticism because she wanted to share the previously disregarded stories of the abused black servants. In many ways, Stockett’s story parallels with her protagonist Skeeter because both of their lives display their unprecedented willingness to publish the truth. 

Historical Context

Kathryn Stockett’s The Help depicts detailed descriptions of the historical context throughout the early 1960’s. Stockett includes the Jim Crow Laws, The Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Rosa Parks, and Medgar Evers, which helps illustrate the general treatment towards African Americans during the early 1960’s. However, Stockett specifically uses this historical context as a foundation to reveal the lives of African American maids while working inside the household. The Jim Crow Laws were state laws enforcing racial segregation in the South of the United States, which influenced many characters because they had to follow these new laws. They were enacted after the reconstruction period, which followed the American Civil War (Constantakis). These laws continued in force until 1965. They were established between 1874 and 1965 with a “separate but equal” treatment for African Americans, but unfortunately they ended up condemning black citizens to inferior treatment and facilities (History). Education and public facilities were segregated by the “separate but equal” standard, however that was only a foundation for their discrimination. For example, they were enforced throughout the bus system, but once the white seats ran out they would kick blacks off the bus. Stockett also uses The Civil Rights Movement to portray the effort seen in the early 1960s to achieve equal rights for African Americans and abolish racial discrimination (History). The movement was a severe struggle for securing the legal recognition and federal protection of all Americans in the United States Constitution. Throughout the novel, important historical movements and laws were being created, influencing all the characters because they had to adjust their life’s to these new rules. The impact on the characters represents the actual effect on African Americans during the early 1960s throughout America.

Connections

Suzanne Jones Southern Cultures article discusses the similar connections between Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind. The two popular novels integrate historical fiction, which explains why so many people enjoy reading these novels because they cause people to consider the important history of that era. Although Gone With The Wind was published in 1936, it addresses the same thematic issues of racial discrimination that is seen throughout The Help because the African Americans in both novels endure horrific, mistreatment from the upper white class. However, the black characters in Gone With The Wind suffered the wrath of the American Civil War and Reconstruction Era. These characters were in the process of abolishing slavery, whereas the characters in The Help maintained more rights. Besides the similarities between the authors and general content, I do not find this comparison completely accurate because Gone With the Wind is overtly racist whereas The Help encourages readers to empathize with the racial discrimination.

Author Motoko Rich makes a superior comparison in his New York Times article “A Southern Mirrored Window”, in which he relates the racial segregation in The Help to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Although the novels’ settings are different, many critics believe they contain similar characteristics of racial segregation because of the comparable horrific treatment towards African Americans. Similarly, blacks had separated living areas that were very dirty and run down compared to the white households. I believe his comparison is accurate because both novels occur in racist eras and are chronicle stories of nondiscriminatory white people using their powerful positions to stand up for the rights of African Americans. However, To Kill A Mockingbird conveys an injustice story because the white jury declares protagonist Tom Robinson guilty because of his black race even though he is clearly innocent. The Help encompasses a hopeful plot because Skeeter raises awareness of the mistreatment towards black maids. Fortunately, I have read To Kill a Mockingbird and it contains countless parallels to The Help. For example, the novels are thematically identical because they constantly address issues of femininity, race, and justice throughout their story. Both novels ultimately promote the equality of all people because many of the characters fight for equal rights for whites and blacks.

Reviews of the Text

New York Time’s book review for The Help positively depicts the primary details of the racial discrimination during the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi that Stockett describes in her novel. Time’s uses Stockett’s childhood racial experiences to illustrate the similarities between her and Skeeter because they want the public to realize the serious amount of truth in The Help. This positively enhances the novels demeanor because the historical context creates a deeper connection with the reader, which reduces the criticism from the public and pressure on the author. The review was published February 18, 2009, which was released ten days after the publication of The Help. New York Time’s reviews are the same as many current reviews because they basically highlight the connections between the protagonist and the author, emphasizing how that positively engages the reader. The text’s reception demonstrates the “suffering endured by black maids Jackson, Mississippi”, revealing the underlying, vast racial discrimination seen throughout America in the early 1960’s (Maslin).

Washington Post’s book review for The Help integrates moral issues, images, and historical context that positively demonstrate the novel’s purpose and strengths. In a few short paragraphs, Skeeter’s striking personality is defined. Washington Post uses Skeeter’s characteristics to reveal the influence she has on “both sides of the racial side”, which shows how female leadership impacts future generations (Steinberg). The review was published twenty-two days after the publication of The Help. The text’s reception concludes that the civil rights movement was occurring during The Help, which reveals the novel’s discriminating, racist society, but more importantly the hidden, horrific discrimination towards black maids during the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi.

The Guardian’s book review for The Help specifically indicates that Stockett’s novel is an “informative masterpiece” that educates the public about racial segregation during the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi (Sharps). Stockett uses her personal experiences to perfectly “[merge] fact and fiction”, revealing the novel’s abundant historical context (Sharps). In five short paragraphs, the review describes the three crucial female narrations throughout the novel that provide three different perspectives for the reader, which strengths the novel. The Guardian’s review was published September 19, 2013, which was released three years after the publication of The Help. The review concludes that society was undergoing extreme racial segregation that many people were disregarding, which is seen throughout The Help with the mistreatment towards black maids.

Themes:
Race
Justice
Gender
Society

 

Works Cited

Andriana, Lynn. “’Gone with the Wind’ Going Strong at 75.” PublishersWeekly.com, 25 Apr. 2015, www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/46952-gone-with-the-wind-going-strong-at-75.html.

Jones, Suzanne W. “The Divided Reception of The Help.” Southern Cultures, vol. 20, no. 1, 2014, p. 7+. Literature Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com

“Kathryn Stockett.” Gale, Contemporary Authors Online , 1 Sept. 2011,ic.galegroup.com/ic/bic1/ReferenceDetailsPage/ReferenceDetailsWindow

Kathryn. The Help. New York: Amy Einhorn, 2009. Print.

“Martin Luther King Jr Wallpaper .” Martin Luther King Jr Wallpaper, Poster, Photos, Pictures, www.arts-wallpapers.com/people/Martin-Luther-King-Jr/index.htm.

Maslin, Janet. “Racial Insults and Quiet Bravery in 1960s Mississippi.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Feb. 2009, archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/2009/02/19/books/19masl.html.

“Popular Novel ‘The Help’ to Hit the Silver Screen.” Bing, Microsoft, 1 Oct. 2010, www.bing.com/images/search/

“The Help.” Novels for Students, edited by Sara Constantakis, vol. 39, Gale, 2012, pp. 110-132. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/ http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1559.html

“To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.” By Harper Lee, www.penguin.co.uk/books/1110244/to-kill-a-mockingbird/9781784870799/.

Rich, Motoko. “A Southern Mirrored Window.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Nov. 2009, www.nytimes.com/2009/11/03/books/03help.html?pagewanted=all.

Sharps, Amy. “The Guardian.” The Help by Kathryn Stockett – Review, 19 Sept. 2013, www.theguardian.com/books/2013/sep/19/review-help-kathttps://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/sep/19/review-help-kathryn-stocketthryn-stockett.

Steinberg, Sybil. “Book Review: ‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett.” The Washington Post, 1 Apr. 2009, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/31/AR2009033103552.html.Stockett,

“Who Make up Today’s ‘Help’ in America?” A Critical Review of the Novel The Help, 16 Dec. 2011, acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/10/23/who-make-up-todays-help-in-america/.

Wyam, Alexandra. “Kathryn Stockett Photos Photos: 2011 Doha Tribeca Film Festival – Day 3.” Zimbio, 26 Oct. 2011, www.zimbio.com/photos/Kathryn+Stockett/2011+Doha+Tribeca+Film+Festival+Day+3/odNqe-X0Ks2.