As soon as I heard about Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel The Help, I could not wait to get my hands on it and start reading. I have always been fascinated by the 1960’s decade and the tumultuous time in our nation’s history that it represents. I can’t imagine living at a time where people were treated completely unfairly due to the color of their skin or their gender, or their religious beliefs. I know that we, as a society, still have a long way to go, but I am so thankful for the progress that we have made. Now time to step off my soapbox…
At the height of the Civil Rights Movement in Deep South Mississippi, Skeeter Phelan has just graduated college and cannot wait to begin her future in journalism. She quickly realizes that her road to editorial fame will not be as easy as she had expected, with the majority of her surrounding community believing that a woman’s place is not on the job, but rather, in the home. Skeeter takes an introductory job at the local newspaper writing a home advice column. The only problem is she knows nothing about cooking or cleaning or child rearing. After all, she grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, where families let “the help” take care of such things.
Skeeter learns advice and answers from the African-American housekeepers in her community, mainly Aibileen and Minny, who work for Skeeter’s high-society childhood friends. As Skeeter learns more and more about the true everyday jobs and lives of these women, she discovers their responsibilities run much deeper than cooking dinner and dusting furniture. In many cases they are more of parents to the children they look after than their biological ones are. But what bothers Skeeter the most is how terribly these women are treated by their employers and by society as a whole. So she does what any good journalist would do and turns it into a juicy story. Despite initial resistance from the housekeepers who fear for their jobs and their well-being, Skeeter writes the scandal of the year, publishing all the dirty details about the black and white disparity in Jackson. And when the upper crust gets wind of their dirty laundry being aired for the world to read, all hell just might break loose.
Stockett tells the story from the points of view of Skeeter, Minny and Aibileen, developing each character into one for whom you cannot help but develop a strong affection, as well as a love for their family and a deep hatred for their unfounded struggles in life. The novel is fiction, but one can definitely see something like this actually happening during that dark period of American history and it gives the reader a deeper appreciation for the equality that all Americans are entitled to today.
Check out the movie, as well. It is by far one of my favorite film adaptations of the book. Nothing was changed, nothing was left out, and nothing was exaggerated. The movie was a perfect version of an already perfect book. Even my boyfriend loved it 😉