The Help is a must read story where three distinctive voices narrate their individual experiences until their lives run parallel to each other as they become a part of a project that unifies them in unexpected ways.
Aibileen is a surrogate mother to Mae Mobley, the daughter of her employer Miss Leefolt who wants as little to do with her as possible. She is the main power that allows the lives of the family she works for to run smoothly. However, after one too many injustices, Aibileen decides it’s about time to let her voice be heard.
Although Minny has a bit of a mouth, she has a greater heart, and stupendous cooking skills that leave a….lingering taste. When she is falsely deemed as an undesirable employee, Minny is forced to take a job wherever she can. That ends up being at the home of Miss Celia who is treated as a social outcast.
College graduate, Skeeter, returns home with high hopes of becoming a writer. Her mother thinks it should be her greatest ambition to be a housewife. When her caretaker and upbringer, Constantine, has disappeared and no one wants to give Skeeter answers, she is determined to bring the stories of the African American maids in her hometown to light.
Oh, one more thing: this all takes place during the 1960’s in Mississippi where the Civil Rights movement is just getting started.
Image and Otherizing
The Help by Kathryn Stockett really conceptualizes public and self-image. Not in regards to wardrobe, but in terms of how characters, like Hilly, present themselves as righteous when in reality, a far more sinister self arises when she deals with ‘the help.’ Her character sharply contrasts the quiet nature of others like Aibileen who really know what’s going on behind closed doors, yet are never allowed to speak out. So, instead, characters like Aibileen are represented by the voices of self-promoting people like Hilly who speak out with practiced, formulated words, and actions that prove otherwise.
In this context, the subject of social hierarchy is introduced through the process of otherizing (referring to the maids as ‘the help’.) It is an antiquarian mentality that is forced upon people in order to make a social hierarchy in which the people establish themselves under the title of being the ‘elite’ and self-promote themselves at the top of the social order, like Hilly.
At the beginning, this was a small project. However, the more that women got involved and started opening up, the more truths were unearthed, and the great, slowly rotting core of injustice in Jackson society was exposed. Although this is a work of fiction, it is inspired by the events that really did happen in the 1960’s and The Help serves as a reminder that we should never forget social injustices.
So if you’d like to learn more about Aibileen’s motherly nature, Skeeter’s rocky love life, and Minny’s cooking, put Kathryn Stockett's The Help on your ‘To Read’ list ASAP!
Or if you have you read The Help please leave your thoughts about the book in comments below! Would love to hear back from you!