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A Review of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help

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The Help by Kathryn Stockett; ReviewThe separate but equal laws in which ‘colored people’ were forced to use different facilities than whites seems a lifetime ago; however, those incidents are relatively recent. Many of your parents, siblings, and spouses most likely remember this terrible time in our history, especially if they were raised in the South where Jim Crow laws were strictly enforced. Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel [amazonify]0399155341::text::::The Help[/amazonify] explores the hardships that female housekeepers were forced to endure during this time.

Set in August 1962, The Help is initially told through the perspective of Aibileen, a black housekeeper for a white family. The novel opens with Aibileen taking care of a white baby and continues on through a luncheon with the esteemed women of Jackson, Mississippi. One of the women brings up the notion that the maids should have their own separate bathroom, so that white people don’t catch their diseases. This barbaric concept catches the attention of one Miss Skeeter, an open-minded woman, who is about to turn the South upside down.

Tall, awkward and a bit of an outcast, Miss Skeeter is an aspiring journalist. Conditioned into the already paved path of becoming a housewife, she instead intends to follow her dreams by applying for an editorial position at a publishing company in New York City. She receives a rejection letter, yet is encouraged to contribute any worthy ideas for approval.

Miss Skeeter finds her muse and decides to interview maids throughout the town to compile a novel that features their interviews. Told by her editor that she needs interviews with at least a dozen maids, Miss Skeeter then sets off to find anyone willing to comply with her request. The problem comes because of the times. Black people in Jackson are being beaten and murdered by the Ku Klux Klan for using the ‘white only’ facilities. And due to the segregation laws, blacks were also in danger if they spoke out against their white employers. Miss Skeeter herself would be accused of betraying her own race…and takes the risk.

The novel then switches perspective to two housemaids, Aibileen and Minny; the two have been best friends for years, sharing each other’s hardships and secrets. Another perspective is that of Miss Skeeter, who serves as ringmaster of this tale. This technique of switching narrative perspectives works well for Sockett, helping to maintain the reader’s interest in an otherwise long story. The narrations of Aibileen and Minny are authentic to the 1960s, and the Southern twang and dialects allow the reader to become more invested in the characters; all credibility and authenticity would be lost if these characters spoke in common proper English.

A rich and captivating read that is full of history, The Help is impossible to put down. On a personal note, I enjoy novels that encompass a period of history that I’ve never experienced. I’m not the biggest history buff, yet coming across a historical novel that promotes a realistic story that could have happened, I find myself embracing it. The Help had me crossing my fingers and rooting for the underdogs, crying with them and for them. Stockett’s novel is one to be prized, for it documents a difficult time in our history that should never be forgotten.

[amazonify]0399155341::text::::To read more about this novel or to purchase a copy, click here.[/amazonify]

–Juliet Barney is an Assistant Editor for The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our new City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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