It’s a bold move, for a Southern white woman to wrtie from a Southern black woman’s perspective, in a Southern black woman’s voice.
And that’s exactly what Kathryn Stockett attempted to do through her 2009 novel, The Help.
Actually, Stockett wrote from two Southern black women’s perspectives, as well as her own. (Although a work of fiction, The Help is semi-autobiographical.)
When I read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird in January, I commented that I wish we could’ve seen the story from the viewpoint of one of the African American characters as well as Scout’s. I sort of got my wish answered with The Help.
But only sort of. Whenever I read Aibileen and Minny’s chapters, I was continually distracted, wondering, “How do black women feel about a white woman trying to represent two of their stories?”
In the book within the book—the collection of stories and interviews of black maids, compiled by Stockett’s alter-ego Skeeter—the New York publisher found Aibileen’s chapter, which was largely self-penned, the strongest. I propose the same might be true in real life.
And did you catch that several of the characters in The Help mentioned reading To Kill a Mockingbird, which was published three years before the story in The Help took place? Certainly Stockett saw Mockingbird as a touchstone and/or inspiration for her own book?
But enough with the meta-stuff. Let’s talk about the story itself.
I found it much more suspenseful than I anticipated. Several friends had told me that once they picked the book up they found it hard to put down. That was true for me too, even if it did take a little while for me to get into it at first.
Not only was I worried about what would happen to Aibileen and Minny, but I was also very curious to discover the answers to the many mysteries in the story.
Why did Constantine get fired? And why did she keep a picture of one of the white girls she nannied in her room?
What did happen between Stuart and his former fiancee?
Why does Celia sit around all day?
What was the Terrible Awful Thing Minny did? What does it have to do with chocolate pie?
While I enjoyed reading through the story, I had mixed feelings about actually finishing it. Some of the resolutions didn’t quite bring me the closure I was hoping for. And some of the reveals were more compelling than others.
My reactions upon discovering the answers to the above questions? [SPOILER ALERT!]
Oh, wow. That makes sense. Kind of. Having a daughter that could pass as a white person could’ve made a much more compelling story, though. I did find it tragic that Constantine had died before Skeeter could talk to her.
Meh. By this point, I was unimpressed with Stuart. Glad that Skeeter found someone who liked her. But sad she had to hide her true self from him. She deserved better.
Yeah, I figured that was it. Boy, that was a gruesome description of her miscarriage.
WHOA. I’m not sure if I feel totally impressed by the perfect irony, or completely disgusted. Probably both. Kind of reminds me of what happened in Fried Green Tomatoes.
I look forward to catching the film adaptation of The Help, scheduled for release this August. I love that Bryce Dallas Howard is portraying Hilly—such a great villain role, I can’t wait to see her come undone.
So what about you? What did you think about The Help? Did it live up to the hype? Who was your favorite character? Do you plan to see the movie?
Please join me in reading June’s Book Club selection, Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston.