In The Help, why did Kathryn Stockett choose to have three different narrators (two African-Americans and one white woman)?
There are a number of reasons that Stockett may have chosen to format her narrative with three voices in The Help. Perhaps the most compelling inference we might make is that Stockett's choice of using two Black narrators and one White narrator functions as an expression of one of the novel's most central themes - - giving voice to the voiceless and giving power to women to tell their own stories where, in the social context of the novel, they had previously been marginalized and silenced.
The idea of voicelessness, marginalizing and powerlessness applies more to Aibileen and Minnie than it does to Skeeter, yet Skeeter too has to overcome challenges relating to social bias. In order to help Aibileen, Minnie and other Black women to tell their stories of exploitation and abuse, Skeeter is effectively forced to find a voice for herself that has not been heard in Jackson before. She has to find a White voice that advocates for equality and human dignity regardless of race. She has to do this in opposition to the prevailing social biases of her friends and social cohort.
Thus, by using three narrators, Stockett finds a formal way of expressing the theme of giving voices to the voiceless in Jackson.
The novel's theme of collaboration and giving aid to others is also furthered by the decision to use a threaded set of narrative voices. Help is a varied and refracted concept in the novel. Minnie helps Celia adjust to married life. Aibileen helps Minnie get a job after being fired. Skeeter helps Aibileen get a job at the newspaper. The women writing the book all help one another to claim a strength of voice, which becomes a source of social power. In collaborating in these various ways, the women in the novel empower themselves and also collectively tell a collective story.
The writing of the book helps to bridge the differences between the white women and the black maids; and they all worked together to dissolve that line between “us and them.”
The partnerships develop in the novel are reflected in the threaded and ethnically diverse narrative format.
Finally, the idea of reinforcement (closely related to these ideas of help and mutual empowerment) plays as an important undercurrent in the novel.
Aibileen's mantra for young Mae Mobley is an indication of the nature of moral reinforcement. The characters in Stockett's novel are challenged with problems that are often too large, too emotion and too culturally entrenched to be dealt with for the characters alone. Outside help is what gets the characters through.
"You is kind," she say, "you is smart. You is important."
Without someone to teach them how to see themselves as people with valid voices in the world, the characters would likely fail to overcome the challenges they face. The threaded narrative echos this idea and shows that Blacks and Whites in Jackson needed each other to begin to overcome some of the deepest issues in that cultural moment relating to racism and categorical dehumanization and exploitation.