The Help – Kathryn Stockett
This is a book that delivers on several levels: it is an entertaining and engrossing novel with drama, humour and sadness, but it also causes us to reflect on deeply moral and racial issues. While racism has existed for a long time and continues to unfold, the story provides a snap-shot into a time that is fascinating and how historically it manifested itself into society in the US. It’s a story of how servants or maids show more integrity and moral compass than their employers. It’s a story of life and communities: how we love and hate, how we laugh and cry, how we interact with family, friends and those we work with/for.
The narrative in The Help places the perspective from a white journalist, Miss Skeeter, and two black maids, Aibileen and Minny. Miss Skeeter wants to write a book using the insights from Aibileen and Minny as to what it is like to be a maid and how they are treated. This causes major concerns of trust if they are to be open and truthful, as Minny says.
“I can’t believe Aibileen wants to tell Miss Skeeter the truth.
It feels cool, like water washing over my sticky-hot body. Cooling a heat that’s been burning me up all my life.
Truth, I say inside my head again, just for that feeling.”
Each character is very well developed with more than just a superficial front and they show depth to the many aspects of their lives. There are other books that cover slavery, segregation and racism in the US, many are more sensational and brutal in their coverage of black subjugation, however, this book leads us to those issues in a less graphic manner for a more mainstream international audience. The stories and insights in themselves are inspiring and understanding the paradox where someone like Aibileen can be trusted to raise white children but watched suspiciously in case she steals material items, is bizarre. How maids must remain upbeat and pleasant regardless of the way they’re treated or what may be happening within their own families and personal lives. To hold the quality of someone’s life as a weapon is corrupt and repulsive, but to do it on a systemic scale is completely abhorrent.
The Help is a very clever book, perhaps meant for more global audiences as it provides an entertaining story whilst delivering these deep ethical issues. I highly recommend this book.