Thursday, October 6, 2011

Book Review: The Help

I started hearing about The Help by Kathrynn Stockett several months ago.  I don't think I ever read any negative reviews about this book; everyone loved it!  It piqued my interest, and I finally read it a couple of weeks ago.

The Help is set in early 1960's Jackson, Mississippi, in the early stages of the Civil Rights Movement.  Two black ladies, Aibilene and Minny are maids working for white families.  Each has her own heartache to bear in addition to the burden of being black in a white-preferred society.  One of the white ladies, affectionately nicknamed Skeeter, aspires to be an author and posed a question to Aibilene, "Do you wish you could change things?" (paraphrased).  Never had a thought entered into Aibilene's mind before, but now that the seed was planted, it took hold and events helped her to make up her mind to do what she could.  Skeeter had the idea of writing a book exposing how black maids really have it working for white families, sharing the good, the bad, and, oftentimes, the ugly.  Aibilene is reluctant at first to share her story, but she does so, followed by her friend Minny; together, they convince ten other ladies to share their stories as well.  All of this has to be done in secret so as not to invite trouble.

Other characters in the book include Hilly who is a snob to the nth degree, manipulative, and just downright mean; Elizabeth for whom Aibilene works for and who is middle-class trying to fake it as a high society lady; Celia, the overzealous poor white girl who is trying to make friends with the other white ladies with no success.

The first thing I want to say is:  This is not MY Mississippi!  The events and attitudes portrayed in this book is as foreign to me as the culture and habits of the Aborigines in Australia.  By the time I grew up in the 70's and 80's (I was born in 1972, a good ten years after the setting of this book), integration had long been in effect.  There were a good number of black students in my school.  I don't remember any racial tension at all (with the exception of comments made by rednecks).  It wasn't until after my family moved to California in 1982, that I had even HEARD about the Civil Rights movement and, in particular, blacks and whites having separate water fountains.  Another little girl who had learned about it asked me if it were still that way today.  I was rather confounded, having never heard about the forced separation, and told her so! That's not to say that racism and prejudice does not exist in Mississippi.  Far from it!  Racism and prejudice are a form of pride, and as long as there are sinners in this world, there will be pride, and, hence, there will be racism and prejudice.

When I taught in a predominantly black school in Northwest Mississippi, my students would sometimes accuse me of being prejudiced (unfounded).  I would tell them, "No, I'm not.  If I were prejudiced, I wouldn't be teaching here.  People who are prejudiced against black people don't want to have anything to do with them."  They never had an answer for that!  As an example, I personally have known a person who cancelled their subscription to the Sports Illustrated magazine because there was a "D--- N-----" on the cover!

This is not to discount the terrible things done to blacks through the years. I wish none of it had happened; I also wish that it could be forgotten.  I remember as a freshman at the University of Southern Mississippi, I had to attend several particular functions to fulfill requirements of the Honors College program in which I was participating.  One of these was the showing of the movie Mississippi Burning.  As saddened as I was about the movie, I was also angry that Mississippi had to be portrayed in such a terrible light.  Again, this is not MY Mississippi.

Back to the book:  I thought it was a compelling story, although it wasn't a great-not-to-be-missed story.  I read a review that said all of the men portrayed in this book are "miserable creatures."  I would have to agree, except that I think Celia's husband was a wonderfully, caring man to his wife.  It was very evident that he loved her very much.  If I could read another book based on the same people, I think I would like to read more about Celia.  I think the history of her character would be a good read.  As a precaution, one particular scene in the book, having to do with Celia requiring medical attention, was very graphic and heartbreaking.

I've read where people hated the dialogue and where people thought it was accurate.  I have no opinion as to the accuracy, except to say I hear the same type of language all the time from both white folks and black folks.  I have to be careful when I read books that have a different kind of accent or dialect, or even phraseology, because I'll start thinking to myself in that way!  Also to do with language, there is some cussing in this book.  Not much, but enough that I wouldn't recommend the book without editing with a marker, if you feel the same way I do about bad language.

Overall, if you think you would like the book, read it (just take care of the language).  If it doesn't sound quite your thing, don't worry about it.
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1 comment:

  1. I've been curious about this book, myself. Thanks for the review. I don't know when I'll ever get time to read it. Sadly, in Hope, we have MUCH racial tension. A man who has now left our church vowed he wouldn't even sit across from them at a meal. It's like stepping back in time here. It's not like this in Benton, where I grew up. Thanks again for the review.

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