The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Stockett, Kathryn. The Help. New York: Amy Einhorn Books, 2009.

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

If you don’t spend a good deal of your life living under a rock, like I do, you have heard of this book. I briefly crawled out from under said rock shortly after Christmas to have both my father and my sister tell me that I had to read it. Then, someone else I know made a comment about it on her Facebook wall, and I immediately put a reserve on it at the library.

I have to say, I was skeptical, but I would have been far more skeptical had the book not been recommended by family members. I just didn’t see how a white women could possibly pull off the story of black women living and working as domestics in Mississippi in the early 1960s. Not only was she white, but she hadn’t even been alive in the early 1960s (but I forget how slowly some things change in the South. Even though she wasn’t alive in the 1960s, by the time she was born, much was the same). As I began to read, though, I began to feel that Stockett is an awfully brave woman. She even chose to write in dialect, to take on the black women’s voices.

I did not grow up in Mississippi. I grew up in North Carolina. I’ve never even been to Mississippi, but I know this story, one between whites and their “help” well. I was born around the time this book takes place, and the picture Stockett paints was on prominent display in my youth. Almost everyone I knew had a woman who helped clean house, and she was usually black. The normal joes had “help” that came one day a week. The truly wealthy had inside “help” and outside “help” five days a week. Stockett’s picture was still on prominent display when I was in college and came home for the summer to be a nanny to a family with three children whose “help” was named Hannah.

This book made me think so much about those Southern relationships. What an odd dynamic it was, and what a wonderful job Stockett does of capturing that dynamic. The book is, at times, horrifying. It is also, at times, very funny. And it is definitely one that raises more questions than it answers.

Some have criticized the book for being racist. I suppose I can understand why, but only in the sense that we are all racist due to the mere fact that we can never truly know what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, really understand another person. I wouldn’t call it racist, though. Forty years ago, in “polite” conversation, no one wanted to talk about these unequal relationships and the damage they did. Most still don’t. Bringing them out? Talking about them? Getting us to address them? I see nothing racist in that. I see that as a step towards healing old wounds. I say “bravo” to Ms. Stockett for doing so while giving us such an engaging, fingernail-biting story, full of characters to love.