Do you think black and white people should both be treated differently from each other. Do you think black people have to serve white people. Do you think black people should not be able to use the same bathrooms as white people? I hope and I think that most people will answer these questions with NO. Yet it has not always been like this. There was a time that those things were completely normal and that answering these questions with 'no' would be scandalous. I could not understand this at all, so I decided to read the book The Help by Kathryn Stockett. This is a novel about black domestic helps in Jackson, Mississippi who serve white women (explaining the title) and the racism between them. The novel is set in the 1960's and in this time there was an enormous distinction made between black and white people. Skeeter Phelan is a young woman who can see past all the racism and she wants to write about how the black maids are treated. This is not easy since she is expected to live her life the way all white women do: play Bridge, being member of the Junior League, get married and start a family. But tenacious Skeeter wants to be a writer who can make a difference. She gets in touch with two maids, Aibileen and Minny, who are willing to help her. Aibileen and Minny develop a friendship with Skeeter that neither believed possible. What they are doing is dangerous in this time and it becomes an interesting and suspense journey.
The novel has multiple themes, one of them clearly being racism. Moreover also the importance of literature (books, newspaper articles, laws, etcetera), not to forget deep love and bitter hate, society and class, violence, gender and justice, all subjects that matter. The book is based on true stories told by black maids themselves.
I am really interested in these subjects, so this book fits this assignment perfectly for me since it enables me to create a bigger understanding of the novel. I will analyze the internal and external conflicts, find out how the changing point of views effect the reader, and discover more about the way symbolism, irony and more are used.
The leading characters have to deal with both internal and external conflicts. An internal conflict for all the black maids that appear in the book is to decide whether to help with the book or not. Deciding between right and wrong, dealing with mixed emotions. They want to help with the book, because they want to speak out, hoping for change. But is it worth risking their (and their family's) lives? Can they make things better or will things just get worse?
Not only the black maids are dealing with internal conflicts, Skeeter Phelan definitely is too. She knows that she should not get into these sorts of things (being friends with black people, trying to change the laws, etc.) and that she is supposed to spend her free time doing things like playing bridge and editing the newspaper of the Junior League. She has lived in this racially segregated society her whole life and it is taught to her as the way it should be. She starts to doubt her own friends and family and the conflict here is her decision about what is really right and wrong. You could say she has a bit of an identity crisis. Another internal conflict which goes for all of them is trust. Should I trust this white lady? Won't she betray us, like every white person so far has done? Similarly for Skeeter, should I trust those black maids? Why would they help me? And so on.
It is all human vs. self. Those conflicts are resolved, because everyone finally makes a decision. They choose to trust each other and Skeeter develops a strong opinion about the racism.
When we are looking at the external conflicts, we are speaking of human vs. society and human vs. human. The most obvious external conflict is the racial conflict, concerning human vs. society. A lot of racism is going on in Jackson, Mississippi, and the leading characters are dealing with this conflict every day. It is a conflict in the novel because they are sick and tired of it. The conflict does resolve during the novel, because black people have a little more rights at the end of the book than at the beginning. They can now for example go to the same library as white people.
The book that Skeeter and the helps are writing is also a conflict. Are they going to make it in time? Will enough maids help by telling their stories? Will they get caught? This sure resolves, because they finish the book (in time) and when it is published it causes a fair amount of fuss.
There are also human vs. human conflicts, for instance with Hilly Holbrook. She can be seen as the villain of the novel. Hilly is the president of the Jackson Junior League, married to a rich man, has two children and is the perfect example of a well-behaving woman. Yet she has a heart cold as stone. She is horrified already by only the idea of using the same bathrooms as black people. This causes conflicts with Skeeter and at the end of the novel they have gone from best friends to enemies since Hilly finds out that Skeeter has written about her. This conflict is resolved because Skeeter decides to move to New York and like this she never has to be bothered by Hilly Holbrook again. To keep Hilly from telling everyone who wrote the book, they put a secret of her in it.
Hilly does not only have a conflict with Skeeter, but actually with all black maids too. Especially with Minny, since Minny has a very big mouth and she can be quite rude. Giving a big mouth as a black person to a white person is generally not tolerated and definitely not by Hilly. She accuses Minny of stealing her silver. As revenge, Minny bakes a chocolate pie with a special ingredientâ€¦ her own poop. Minny is also moving away at the end of the book, so this conflict is resolved too.
It is not hard to find out the internal conflicts for all of the leading characters, since the novel is written in different point of views. Eleven chapters from Aibileen's perspective, nine for Minny, and Skeeter narrates thirteen chapters. This creates a bigger understanding while reading the novel. It gives you more insight into areas that only one character might not necessarily be involved in. On top of that it enables you to form your own opinion about certain situations since you are given several perspectives. I think it was really clever to put a white perspective in the novel too, instead of just the maid's stories. Kathryn Stockett explained this herself: "I just didn't think that I would ever be allowed to sit on the shelf, so I threw Skeeter in the mix and I felt a little better about it, because I was showing a white perspective as well."
There is one chapter (chapter 25, "The Benefit") which is told in the third person. Stockett probably did this because this chapter moves around a lot. This way the reader gets the perspective from multiple characters simultaneously instead of being stuck in anyone's head.
One of the things I love about this novel is the irony. A great example is Hilly Holbrook. She is collecting canned goods for the "Poor Starving Children of Africa", yet she treats all black people in her surroundings like garbage. In addition she says to Skeeter: "Be careful, Skeeter.Â This town is full of real racists, and if they find out what you are doing, there could be real trouble." It's ironic because Hilly does not realize that she is the racist that she is warning others about.
Furthermore, most maids take care of their bosses children. These children love the maids and even call them 'mama' when their own mothers almost completely ignore them. The irony lies in the fact that those same children grow up and end up being just like their bossy and racist mothers.
There is a certain amount of suspense too, which is partly created by the different perspectives. The suspense stays during almost the entire novel since you know that a lot of horrible things could happen to the maids and even to Skeeter.
To me, The Help is a bit of a satire on racism and on how simple-minded some people are. Their world exists of only their own perfect little world. The white women in the book worry about the stupidest things, like having an outdoor bathroom for the help, while people like Aibileen are struggling with real problems, like her son's death. A great example is once again Hilly Holbrook. When she is collecting canned goods for the "Poor Starving Children of Africa" someone suggests to just send money. Hilly replies: "You cannot give these tribal people money [â€¦]. There is no Jitney 14 Grocery in the Ogaden Desert. And how would we even know if they're even feeding their kids with it? They're likely to go to the local voodoo tent and get a satanic tattoo with our money." I think here the reader clearly sees the limits of Hilly's world and vision. It shows how little she knows about cultures and traditions from anywhere else than Jackson. The whole charity for the "Poor Starving Children of Africa" is pretty incongruous since she does believe that the black people in Jackson are poor because they are just lazy or stupid.
Throughout the whole book, all racist people are coming across a bit foolish to me. This is probably because of my own strong opinion about racism, but still you could see the novel as a satire on racism.
Moving on to symbolism. Especially Aibileen uses a lot of symbolizing in her language. For example: "No, white womans like to keep they hands clean. They got a shiny little set a tools they use, sharp as witches fingernails, tidy and laid out neat, like the picks on a dentist tray. They gone take they time with them." She describes white women who use their power to for instance have people fired, imprisoned, or even physically harmed. "Witches fingernails" and dentist tools symbolize such violence.
Another example by Aibileen: "But it wasn't too long before I seen something in me had changed. A bitter seed was planted inside a me. And I just didn't feel so accepting anymore." I think "a bitter seed" is a beautifully found symbol. It really gives you a clear idea of how Aibileen feels and how she has changed.
Another means by which symbolism was included was when Skeeter was sitting in her car listening to the radio. The Times They Are a-Changing by Bob Dylan is playing and this gives Skeeter hope and relief. Symbolic is that in Jackson, things are changing too. Very slowly however.
I find this novel really impressive. The fact that the things happening in this novel did not even happen very long a go makes it that impressive. It happened in our grandparents time, when our parents were being born. It shows how much injustice there is in the world. While reading, you think: 'Why did nobody say something? Why didn't anyone stand up?'. It was part of daily life, children grew up like this without wondering why things had to be like that. "It's just the way things are" is a quote from the book that comes up several times. That makes me wonder: do we go through life without noticing injustice because we are that used to it? Will our children and grandchildren look back at our generation and think 'why didn't anyone stand up?'.
I think it is an eye-opening novel and I would definitely recommend this book. Especially to women, since there are almost no male characters in the book.
I really liked the fact that there were different perspectives. It enables you to create your own opinion since you are given different points of view.
The moral of the story is that the differences between those women are not as big as they think. The boundaries that are so obviously present between white and black people, are all in their heads. This is proven by Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter when they develop a true friendship. Skeeter realizes this when she is thinking about Aibileen: "We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought."
Kathryn Stockett's wildly popular novel The Help has caused a huge hype. And it is definitely deserved! This fascinating novel takes you all the way back to the 1960's in racially segregated Jackson, Mississippi. You're taken on a suspense journey from three impressive women and their battle against racism. Together they write a book containing eye-opening stories from black maids working for white women. The tenacious Skeeter Phelan comes up with the idea but it is definitely not easy since she is white and should not be working together with black people. The wise Aibileen Clark decides to help her, since she is devoted to the seventeenth white child she is taken care of and does not want her to turn into a monster like her mother. After the death of Aibileen's son, she is sick and tired of racism. The sassy Minny Jackson is Aibileen's best friend and helps too. She does it for her children and she wants people to know the truth. The novel contains some heartbreaking stories, yet some hilarious moments too. I would advise you to keep your tissue box with you, because this unforgettable book will have you crying, laughing and wanting to read on forever all at the same time. Prepare to be impressed!
Information on the Author
The Help was Kathryn Stockett's debut novel. She has gotten multiple awards and honors for the novel. Among others the New York Times bestseller, Amazon's Best Books of the Year, Indies Choice Book Award, SIBA Book Award and International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
She grew up where the book is set: in Jackson, Mississippi. Her life story is definitely important to the book. She grew up with such a help herself, Demetrie, whom she loved a lot. Kathryn Stockett has a lot of similarities with Skeeter Phelan from the book.
Stockett lived in New York for 16 years and wrote The Help there. She started writing the book the day after 9/11. She was feeling lonely and homesick, and like a lot of writers do, she started writing in the voice of someone she wished she could hear. This voice was Demetrie's, who became Aibileen.
Stockett said that she wrote the book to find answers, to soothe her own mind about Demetrie. Demetrie was so important to Stockett, yet she had a separate bathroom outside. When Stockett finally realized the irony of that relationship, she wrote The Help.