I last blogged about The Help HERE and am finally getting around to reviewing the book.
In 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, an upper-class white woman, Eugenia (Skeeter) Phelan writes an anonymous tell-all book about what it is like working for white families from a black maid’s perspective.
The Help is well-written and interesting, although I don’t think it’s as great as the hype might lead you to believe. That isn’t a criticism of the author and doesn’t mean it’s a bad book; it’s an observation about how “best sellers” are rarely as great as rave reviews might lead you to believe.
The characters are engaging, and the topic is one that should be of concern. I like Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter and how working on Skeeter’s project brings them together and crosses class and race barriers. Aibileen is quiet and usually follows instructions without protest, but finally gets fed up with being viewed as inferior and stands up for herself. She does love the white children she has helped raise, and that paradox is interesting. Minny speaks her mind and it usually gets her into trouble, but she is more vulnerable underneath the smart-mouth exterior than she is able to admit. She works up the courage to leave an abusive marriage. Skeeter takes an honest look at the messed up superior attitude of the upper class and uses her desire to write to make an effort to improve things. I do kind of wonder if it would make a difference if it had been one of the maids who instigated writing Skeeter’s book, but the point is getting the issues out there and change can start with anyone. I dislike Hilly intensely; she is such a selfish, vindictive individual. However, she is not meant to be likable, and as Aibileen observes, she makes her own prison.
I think it’s important to keep in mind that, although class superiority, bigotry and racism existed (and still exist), this isn’t exclusive to the United States or the South, and blacks aren’t the only ones who have issues with being treated as inferior. People with superior attitudes based on social status or race exist in all cultures.
I like the author’s essay at the end of the book about her own memories growing up with a black maid caring for her also, and how she expresses gratitude for this person who was an important part of her childhood.
The Help is worth reading and thinking about.