When I first read The Help, I was extremely impressed. Harper Lee gave us To Kill a Mockingbird in the 1960s; finishing this novel, I felt we had been given a "Mockingbird" for our time in the form of The Help. (Something to this effect is mentioned on the back cover of the book.)
With this in mind, identify a part of the novel that you feel was particularly important in making this a story with a powerful message—in other words, identify an important message Stockett shares with the reading audience.
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I have to agree that this is an amazing novel, and does present us with a version of Harper Lee's classic for our times. For me, what struck me most in the novel was the way that white American society would not permit their black house helps to use their own toilets, whilst at the same time money was being raised by well-to-do white ladies were gaining kudos for themselves by raising money for poor black children in Africa. The subsequent toilet protest was one of the most hilarious moments of the book for me, but it also underlined the hypocrisy of these attitudes.
One of the most moving aspects of the novel for me was the overarching theme of "mother figures." These black maids essentially raised the white children in their care but as one of the maids so eloquently stated, "they trust us to care for their children but not polish their silver." The loving devotion of Adeline to the young girl in her care is heartbreaking in contrast to the distracted neglect she gets from her real mother. As a reader, you hope that the affirmation Adeline repeats daily will stay with her until adulthood and that, like Skeeter, she will have a more modern perspective on the value of the "help" -- human beings who are emotionally connected to their employers and who are the same as everyone else.
I, too, was struck by the contrast between the loving care and devotion of the maids to the young children and the employers to the maids. I found it a sad commentary on attitudes that relationships can be so compartmentalized; but I found it sad that the mothers would be that detached from the "hands-on" raising of their children in the first place.
I must agree with the other posters. I found it very ironic that whites would trust their children with the maids, but not the silver. I have never understood the concept of having another person raise ones children...here, the situation simply baffled me regarding the mentality of the white mothers.
The scenario of The Help isn't so isolated to the American 20st century as may be thought; they are more widespread and always deeply chilling no matter where encountered. These conditions and worse were present in South Africa in the late 1900s. The part that I find of special significance is the ending when Aibileen leaves Hilly's false accusations and begins her journalism career feeling hope that there can be new beginnings--for individuals and for societies.
This is an insightful slice of history which is hard to accept but, unfortunately, most of the treatment toward the black maids was not so very surprising to me. The general disdain or--almost worse--the overlooking of the maids is something I've read before. And it's clear that any blacks who overstepped or became too familiar with whites were punished for it somehow. What I did find shocking was how much Skeeter was ostracized and threatened by whites simply because she showed a slight connection to the maids. I had no no idea what a serious offense it was (in some places, anyway) for whites to associate with or empathize with people of color. I suppose I should have realized it, but I didn't and I was appalled.
The scene that best exposes the absurdity of the Jim Crow laws is when Aibileen is potty training Mae Mobley. Mrs. Leefolt, Mae Mobley's mother, has bowed to Hilly Holbrook's demand that maids have separate bathrooms from their white employers by having a toilet installed in the garage. Mae Mobley, just a toddler, doesn't understand how ashamed her mother would be to see her using the maid's bathroom. All she knows is that she needs to go potty, and she is proud of herself for being able to use the big girl potty. You almost want to cry with her when her mother punishes her for it.
This is a well-written and compelling novel. There is some very good use of metaphor, especially in the chapters narrated by the maids Aibileen and Minny. And the narrative is gripping. Stockett creates a situation of anticipation that carries the reader through almost the entire novel, which is great.
This book isn't exactly eye-opening though and there is one thing that really bothers me. Why are the maids' sections narrated in dialect and the white character's sections narrated in grammatically standard English?
When Skeeter speaks, she uses colloquial language and contractions (like the maids), but in her narrated sections these habits are nowhere to be seen. But when Aibileen narrates, she is represented in dialect, using "gone" instead of "going to", despite the fact that she is a reader and a writer. When she directly tells Skeeter the first part of her story for use in the book, the prose she recites is marked only slightly by colloquial usages.
If Aibileen writes with some small colloquial usages, why is she presented in dialect? Really though it's not the fact that the maids are presented in dialect that is bothersome. The bothersome fact is that the white Miss Skeeter is presented in "proper language".
This, to me, seems to undermine the point of the novel. This, to me, seems rather, well, racist.
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