Be prepared to meet three unforgettable women: — Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.
Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.
In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women — mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends — view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.
I will not be able to do justice to this book. As a woman in the south and a student of history, I am familiar with the Civil Rights movement and what that entails. I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to be alive during that time period, as a white woman or otherwise. I can see how much we’ve changed in the 50 years since the setting of this book, but I cannot begin to understand just how intricate those changes are. It’s humbling to realize how little you know and comprehend about others’ lives. But I don’t want this review to become an essay on the Civil Rights movement and its’ effect on today’s society.
Let me just say this a very powerful, eye-opening book. It was very well written, funny, and incisive. The characters, Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter, were not caricatures of the women of the era. They were fleshed out, real people. They grew and they changed.
Skeeter, a white woman who grew up on a cotton plantation, returns home as a college graduate in 1962. She wants to be a writer, but the only work she can get is as a domestic advice columnist in the local paper, under a pseudonym that the previous columnist assumed. Of course, she knows nothing about cleaning, so she asks her friend, Elizabeth, if she could utilize Elizabeth’s maid, Aibileen, and Elizabeth reluctantly agrees. The dynamic between Skeeter and her friends is strange, but I guess it’s right for the time period. Of course, everyone is repressed and proper and never really says what they mean or what they’re thinking. Not even close friends, like Skeeter and Miss Hilly and Miss Elizabeth (the most repressed of them all). Compare that to my circle of friends, where we know virtually every facet of each other’s lives…I just cannot comprehend. But I liked Skeeter. She was open minded and forward thinking, even if she was trapped in mindset of the people around her.
Miss Hilly, the antagonist of the book, was fascinating. Without giving too much away, I have to say that she was a master manipulator. She did things to get what she wanted, regardless of what was morally right. But then, from her point of view, black people were uncouth, unwashed, disease carrying individuals. (I hesitate to use the word people, because I don’t think Hilly saw them as such. They were just vehicles for her use and amusement.) But it was not just black people she bent to her will. She is the local Jackson chapter president of the Junior League, that formidable institution that has been giving women power for how long, I have no idea. But in her position as President, she is very influential and popular, which gives her enormous power over Jackson and her friends (but perhaps, not as much as she would like to think).
Aibileen has been working for Miss Elizabeth and her daughter, Mae Mobley, since Mae Mo was a baby. She’s basically Mae Mo’s mother, just not genetically. Aibileen has been raising other people’s children for most of her life and loves that little girl like she’s her own. When Ms. Skeeter comes around to ask Aibileen if she would help her write her column, Aibileen is understandably wary, but does it anyway. Then one day, a frustrated Skeeter asks Aibee if she wishes that it were “different”, and it plants the seed in both of their minds. I loved Aibileen. She was very smart. I felt her frustration, her anger, her love for Mae Mobley. She was very heroic in numerous small ways.
It made me wonder, several times, what these women’s lives would be like today, having lived throught all of that. Especially Hilly. I would love to know what she is like now, what her views are and if they’ve changed, how did her children turn out.
There are a couple characters who I haven’t mentioned but I think are my favorite ones in the book. Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, and Mrs. Celia Foote. Both are exceptional women, both strong and weak, and they made the book better by being in it.
The pacing of the book in the beginning is a little slow, leading up to what ultimately happens between Miss Skeeter and Aibileen and, eventually, other maids. In the background of all this is actual events that transpired in and around Jackson, Mississippi during the early 1960s, like the death of Medgar Evers and the bombing of the church that killed four little girls in Birmingham. Ms. Stockett populates her story with actual events and people relevant to the time, but nothing seems forced. It’s a very organic narrative that seems real. I am so very glad I read this book. It was honest and smart and, like every book should be, entertaining. It is deserving of all its accolades.