There’s been a lot of hype about this book, and with good reason. The Help was published in 2009 by Kathryn Stocket, and the film version was released in 2011. Kate Caroline reviews.
The Help topped the New York Time Bestseller list for over 100 weeks and has won various awards, including the Indies Choice Book Award, the Townsend Prize for Fiction, and the SIBA Book Award. Surprisingly, in spite of all of the positive acclaim it has gained, The Help was originally rejected by 60 literary agents before Susan Ramer of Penguin Books finally agreed to publish it.
Kathryn Stockett’s first novel is set deep in the American south in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s and is largely fictionalized, although some of the story is based on her personal experiences growing up in the South.
The Help tells the story of Eugenia Phelan, more commonly known as Skeeter, a white Southern girl who just finished college and is back home in Jackson looking for a job, hopefully to do with writing. Her two best friends are Hilly Holbrook and Elizabeth Leefolt, both of whom are married with children and openly racist to their black maids.
When Hilly talks about her initiative to require all white homes to have a separate bathroom outside of the house for the black help, Skeeter, who disagrees wholeheartedly with Hilly’s views, decides to write a book to document the lives and stories of black maids in Jackson.
However, Skeeter has difficulty getting started, because none of the maids want to talk to her. They are scared, and with reason. Due to the Jim Crow laws, it is illegal for blacks and whites to meet together, and the maids could be arrested. She finally begins by talking to Aibileen, the maid who works forElizabeth and is the first to agree to help her.
Eventually, after a particularly horrible case of violence by white men against one of the black families inJackson, more maids agree to help Skeeter and share their stories, in the hopes of making a change in their town.
Through a contact Skeeter made inNew York, she succeeds in getting the book published, and it is a moment of triumph for both her and all of the women who shared their stories with her. The book is generally well-received, but not by the men and women ofJackson, some of whom figure out that it is their town in the book, even though it is given a fake name, and Skeeter, as well as the maids, are all anonymous.
The Help offers a different perspective of what it was like in the South in the 1960s from the viewpoints of both blacks and whites, but in particular the voices of black maids have never been heard before.
The Help takes place during a time in our history that most of us learn about in textbooks, but rarely get to learn about from personal stories. Although much of Stockett’s novel is fictionalized, it is based in truth and on her experiences growing up in the South.
Despite a bittersweet ending, The Help is a story about people overcoming obstacles and facing their fears in order to make a change, and there is something for all of to learn in this book.
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