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Kathryn Stockett's first novel, The Help, is set in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 1960s. Each chapter is written/narrated by one of three women (one of them white, two of them black) who tell their personal stories.
Skeeter Pheelan (the white narrator) has just graduated from college with a journalism degree, and she is moved by two things to write a book from the perspective of the black maids in town. Her first motivation is her love for Constantine, the black maid who loved and helped raise Skeeter for so many years. The second reason she wants to write it is that she has come to understand that the black maids are not being treated as equal human beings, especially by the women for whom they work.
Unfortunately for Skeeter, the black women do not trust her at first, and, as soon as they sense her sympathy for their maids, her white friends disown her (though she does manage to get a little revenge on the worst offender). Aibileen Clark is the first of "the help" to tell Skeeter her story, but it is a long time before anyone else will talk to the white journalist. Finally Minnie Jackson is fed up enough to speak, and after she agrees to tell her story, many others follow her.
That is the primary plot of The Help; within that framework, Skeeter ldiscovers an awful truth about her beloved Constantine, loves and loses a man, learns that her mother has been diagnosed with cancer, and realizes that her true friends are not who she thought they were. Aibileen works for a family who does not appreciate her, though she loves the children and raises them as her own until she is forced to leave. She has lost a son and has plenty of reason to be bitter, but she is able to cross the racial divide in her relationships. Minnie is perhaps the most ill-treated of the three narrators, but she is also the one with the worst temper. She is unfairly forced to quit her job and does a "terrible" thing to exact revenge on her former employer. Despite her less-than-ideal family life, Minnie finds a new position as maid to a woman who becomes a loyal friend as much as an employer.
When the book is published (anonymously, of course), the reaction is overwhelming. The black "help," empowered just by the telling of their stories, are stronger than they ever imagined they would be; Skeeter goes to New York to pursue her writing career.
The author's favorite quote from the book is this:
Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought.
A more detailed summary of the book, including a chapter-by-chapter summary, can be found at the link below.
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