Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Help: everyone needs to read it!

Have you ever had "help" around your home? Someone to do the heavy cleaning, maybe lawn care, or a chef who takes care of big parties? I've been fortunate to have excellent help during the past few years, first when I wasn't allowed to clean because of germs, and then when I couldn't clean because I was too weak. I always appreciated the hard work and attention to certain details that Daniela took care of, like making my bed a certain way. Having someone come in every other week is much different than having "help" five or six days a week, as the women of The Help are fortunate to have. In Kathryn Stockett's debut novel, Elizabeth and Hilly don't appreciate their housekeepers, to whom they refer as maids. The employers actually believe they are doing these women a favor by giving them a job and then extending their hours without extra pay, and treating them either as invisible or as dirty, disease ridden non-people. Interesting that they think the person who is cleaning their home is dirty, huh?
The Help takes place in the early 1960s in Jackson, MS, which we all know was considered the worst place to be of African descent. Through the eyes of Minny and Aibileen I had my own eyes opened to even more oppressive and ridiculous laws and customs than I had heard of as a history student. We all know about separate public bathrooms, but did you know that many white families installed separate bathrooms in their garage or attached to the house as a shed, for their black help? And a separate public library and grocery store? The maids could go in the white grocery if they were in uniform only.
Minny and Abileen "know" Miss Skeeter Phelan through working for her friends and being friends with Skeeter's family housekeeper, Constantine. A recent college graduate with a degree in English and journalism from Ole Miss, Skeeter wants to write. Stories, articles, a novel, just write! Her mother and friends want her to get married and have lives similar to their own. Having never felt attractive, man-hunting is not even on Skeeter's radar.= Through a series of encounters and conversations, Skeeter decides she'd like to learn more about the real lives of the maids in Jackson and tries to enlist Aibileen's help. With conflict between the races all around, the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr., and President Kennedy, this is not a good time for blacks and whites to be seen together, much less "assembling" in groups. With Skeeter's eyes being opened even wider, and Aibileen and Minny growing stronger and prouder, they begin to record their stories of the families and the working conditions of their more than 25 years in service.
Kathryn Stockett, herself born and raised in Jackson by her family's maid Demetrie, shares with us a touching afterword, which ends, "I have wished, for many years, that I'd been old enough and thoughtful enough to ask Demetrie [what it felt like to be black in Mississippi]. She died when I was sixteen. I've spent years imagining what her answer would be. And that is why I wrote this book."
Although this book focuses on a serious topic, it has many funny parts and folksy stories, as well as tales of yummy southern food. Everyone should read The Help by Kathryn Stockett and remember how far we've come and how far some places in our country still need to go.



ANovelMenagerie said...

I really loved this book. I gave it a 10 out of 10 in my review. LOVED it!

Thanks for the good review.


Jill said...

Sounds like a great book. :)

Mary said...

I read it in May - it's on y 2009 favorites list. I have an online friend who read it with her book group. She hosted the discussion at her home. They had dinner (foods mentioned in the novel) and dessert was - you guessed it - Pie, and I'll let you figure out what kind of pie, lol. Great book!

Justine said...

Wow, this does sound like a good, eye-opening book!

Justine :o )

Ronda's Rants said...

Sounds like one i would enjoy...I shall put it on my ever-growing list!

SmilingSally said...

I have good friends who live in Jackson, MS. It's hard for me to believe that anyone would spend the money to have a separate bathroom for "help." How horrible!

Chari said...

Hello Elizabeth...

Just wanted to stop by after you left me such a sweet note on my Pink Saturday post where I shared my Grandma's pink depression glass! Thank you so much for coming by and leaving such a nice comment!

Ohhh my...I'm always running late! I just checked out your Pink Saturday post. My friend, that house is just gorgeous and the pink topiaries...divine!!! They sure are pretty! Thanks for sharing them with us!

Now about the book, "The Help". I hadn't heard about this book but it sounds like a great read! Ohhh my...can you believe that it's been such a short time ago...the 60's...and the bad treatment of African americans? It's truly appalling!!! I'll have to see if our local library has this book...would love to read it!

Warmest wishes,

snore stop said...

Thanks for the good review. I hadn't heard about this book but it sounds like a great read!I really enjoy this blog.