I was feeling like the only person on Earth who hadn’t read “The Help”, so I took care of that little problem. Wish I hadn’t waited so long!
“The Help” takes place in Jackson, Mississippi during the early 1960s. It’s a tumultuous time and place. Jim Crow laws are still in effect and racial prejudice is overt. But civil rights activists are starting to make some headway on changing the rules and the mindset.
In Jackson, young society matrons have black maids and many black women depend on these jobs to eke out enough income to live on. The maids are privy to all sorts of their employers’ family secrets, raise the white children like their own and are the subjects of bizarre stereotypes and sometimes cruel treatment. It’s a strange arrangement.
The story has three different narrators, each with their own unique voices. First we meet Aibileen, a middle-aged maid who loves raising the children of her employers but tends to move on when these children lose their colorblindness. Minny is another maid who is blunt and angry but also capable of great loyalty. Miss Skeeter is part of the young matron crowd, although an awkward, unmarried fifth wheel. She was raised by her own family’s beloved maid. The three voices are well-written and each character contributes a unique perspective to the story.
Skeeter is an aspiring writer who wants to write a book that will essentially be a collection of stories from a dozen black maids about their experiences working for white families. This was an extremely controversial topic for this time and place and all the participants faced consequences ranging from ostracization to physical violence.
As the three narrators work together on the book, the author creates scenarios that effectively illustrate the heartbreaking impact of racism in 1960s Mississippi. I was really struck by how vulnerable the maids were and how few options they had in their lives. But the novel also provides several examples of friendship and compassion that serve as good reminders about the power of basic human decency.
Overall, I definitely recommend “The Help”.
Have you read “The Help”? What did you think?