The Help by Kathyrn Stockett | Book Review

I remember watching ‘The Help‘ starring Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Emma Stone years back. In the end credits, it said the story is based on a book. Usually, I would have read the book before watching the movie, but this was the other way around. So, a couple of years back when I saw this book at a book fair, I bought a copy out of sheer nostalgia.

Last year I finally read this book and I was so glad that I did!

Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter are the three characters from this book that are sure to stay with you forever. Yes, I did remember them from the movie but reading the book made everything so much closer and real – the place, the chores, and the prejudices as it happened in Jackson through Miss Myrna’s household columns, silver polishing, and the sanitation campaign.

The Help’ by Kathyrn Stockett isn’t the run-of-the-mill fight-the-oppressor trope. ‘The Help’ is about Skeeter Phelan, a white young woman from Jackson, Mississippi trying to find a calling in the writing profession and unknowingly hitting the hornet’s nest of prejudices and bigotry as she secretly interviews maids from the neighbourhood for a proposed book. The story hits you hard because it brings forth the everyday hardships faced by black women working for white households.

I began the book, just like Skeeter expecting to collect stories of hate and hardship but was surprised by their diversity. There is a balance of the good and the bad experiences, weighing each one out in a pacey, engaging read. Skeeter’s character looks at the issues between the maids and their rich employers from her perspective while Aibileen, Minny, and other maids tell their story from the receiver’s end.

Kathyrn Stockett uses different voices, the authenticity in Aibileen, Minny, and other maids’ characterization and their voices are what sets this book apart. The two communities in Jackson set in the 1960s are a world apart and the narrative technique makes it authentic.

I, especially, loved Aibileen (somewhere drawn from Mammy’s character in Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell) who raises white children and teaches them values of equality, affection, and self-love. But Aibileen takes a step further by nurturing goodness in the children she raises and has the courage to stand for Skeeter. In one of the instances when Mae Mobley comes back from preschool and tells an experience with her teacher, Aibileen tries her best to overturn the seed of prejudice taught to the little white girl. The simple acts of bravery from the maids and stories of certain white employees who look out for them in times of hardship are heart-warming.

“Wasn’t that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.

We know we live in a divided world with differences based on race, colour, culture, gender, etc. This line that divides us is further deepened by characters like Hilly Holbrook who are influential but entrenched in prejudices. But even for those who believe the divide doesn’t exist, one knows the consequences of crossing that invisible line.

So, is this book a social commentary? I would say ‘Yes’ and one that remains relevant and manifests in our community in different forms even today. It is a sort of reality check for many who do not treat others with equality and respect. And, yet this book makes for a joyous, pacey ride through hilarious incidents and some heartbreaks.  

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