Wednesday, 3 August 2011
The Help - Kathryn Stockett
Focusing on the Mississippi state in the 1960s where the civil right movement is just coming into focus, The Help tells of Aibileen, Minny and Miss Skeeter; three women who despite two being maids, all become friends and gain a genuine respect for each other.
Together, and in secret, they write a book about what it is to be a black maid working for a white family. The good, bad and the very ugly truth of it. It's a dangerous thing for them to undertake; for Aibileen and Minny, it means not only losing their jobs and never finding work again but they could well be subject to a fatal beating by those who believe a "colored" person should know their place. For Miss Skeeter, a white woman treating a black person as her equal means not marrying into the "right family" and generally being ostracized from society. The book will also allow Skeeter to find out more about her beloved Constantine - the maid that raised her and who suddenly left without saying goodbye.
Ultimately, writing this book will hopefully cross the boundaries of color and class and "hope for a better day".
What an amazing story. Stockett's portrayal of three different women - their characters, principals and morals are distinct and never waiver from the telling of a truly remarkable story.
Written with a 'southern accent' i.e. "Taking care a white babies, that's what I do.." the simple, yet powerful tale is brilliantly told. Stockett cleverly gives the viewpoint of a situation three different ways, showing that there is always three sides to a story. But besides this, each viewpoint explains how being a black person in the 60s meant that you had no choice but to accept your situation, that whilst you're trusted with caring the children, it was the silver that was checked once you went home.
Funny, sad, ironic (one of the events held by the 'white folk' was to raise funds for children in Africa?!) and steeped in poignancy The Help tells of a time many Americans rather forget. But, it also shows how women can come together - regardless of race or status - to help one another. It doesn't matter that it was three women trying to make people understand changes had to be made, the point is that they had the courage to make that change. Stockett says that the line she "truly prize(s)" is We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I thought. I can't help but agree.
My review perhaps doesn't go into a lot of detail about Aibileen's serenity, Skeeter's drive to make a change or Minny's ability to speak to her mind and that's because it's something worth finding out for yourself. Without gushing too much, it was an immense pleasure to read this book.
My final comment - please read it before you see the film version!
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