Book Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

‘The Help’ sounds like a book about of a young girl hired to support the rich with their hustling working lives.

‘The Help’ sounds like a book about of a young girl hired to support the rich with their hustling working lives. Turn to the first page, and you learn that it is a polite term to disguise the black servant’s slavery of relieving their white women from tidying up their mess, cooking for their husbands and raising their children.

Sadly, it is an accurate portrayal of black and white relations in Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. Yet, the characters created by author, Kathryn Stockett, are fictional.

On that first page, we meet black maid, Aibileen, nurturing her seventeenth white child, Mae Mobley, because it is too much effort for her actual mother, Miss Elizabeth.  A few chapters down and we hear the voice of Aibilieen’s friend, Minny. She is a feisty cook whose fiery nature is an ingredient in her famous pies and her fight with Miss Elizabeth’s friend, Miss Hilly – the Jackson League president.

But when ‘the help’ get offered some help for themselves, to speak about their experiences in the hope to change their civil rights, they team up with white Miss Skeeter – an aspiring writer, cut loose from her own dear maid without a clue as to why.

The characterisation can be stereotypical, featuring good vs. evil, Cruella de Vil-types and high school bully material – in the case of Miss Hilly, who dictates, spreads evil lies and holds the power to destroy lives. Yet, the unlikely Disney ending of no demise makes her character more believable.

But the narration from three courageous voices is effective in making a point of what is right and what is wrong. The heroic women join forces to take a risky chance of changing the prejudice in the town – to report a serious message of racism.

And the message has reached an international audience, with Stockett’s debut novel becoming a best seller and reaching the movie industry in 2011, as well as earning 10 literacy awards.

Fictional characters they may be, but Stockett bravely reveals at the end of the drama that when growing up she had her own ‘help’. Describing the life of her maid, certain details resemble the characters of her story.

So, there is certainly some truth in the unjust world she writes about. This makes your fists clench harder and the message more important – enough so, that you should spend your time, money and energy on listening to Stockett’s clever tale of fact softened with fiction.