In the film, The Help, Constantine tells a teenage Skeeter "As for your Mama, she didn't pick her life, it picked her; you're going to do something big with your life." Why is this verbal exchange...

In the film, The Help, Constantine tells a teenage Skeeter "As for your Mama, she didn't pick her life, it picked her; you're going to do something big with your life." Why is this verbal exchange important? What are 2 examples of "coercive power" from The Help? What are 2 examples of the "looking glass self" from the film?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The verbal exchange between Constantine and teenage Skeeter is important for several reasons.  The first is that Skeeter never had a chance to bid farewell to her beloved Constantine. Therefore, whatever memories she holds of Constantine are precious.  It is also important because it speaks to the emotional bond Skeeter shares with Constantine. Another reason why this exchange is important is because it shows how Skeeter saw Constantine as more than "the help."  Constantine gave Skeeter the courage and internal resolve that so many other White characters in Jackson lack.  Constantine's encouragement to Skeeter that she will be more than simply a "pretty girl" who will be sought after by boys is important.  From an early age, Skeeter knows that she is different in a social setting where conformity is demanded. In this regard, she is more of a mother than Charlotte was. Constantine helps to give Skeeter the courage to embrace being different. This exchange in which Constantine speaks to how Skeeter will do "something big with her life" is inspirationally liberating, enabling Skeeter to envision what can be from what is.  

Coercive power is significant in The Help.  Hilly Holbrook represents the embodiment of coercive power.  Hilly personifies power as authority or control that is motivated out of fear and repression.  She uses his position to ensure that the Status Quo will not be disrupted.  There are two specific examples of this.  The first would be when she is able to engineer the marginalization of Celia Foote.  Under the impression that Celia took Hilly's ex- boyfriend, Johnny, Hilly demonstrates a swift and brutal power that marginalizes Celia.  If Hilly is able to ensure that working class Whites like Celia are marginalized, people of color are really in for a coercive display of power.  This can be seen at different points.  When Elizabeth Leefolt has to dismiss Aibileen, it is done in deference and fear of Hilly, who wants to send a statement about the book being written. She is able to demonstrate this power against Aibileen.  It is interesting to see how Aibileen inverts the narrative against Hilly, using the threats of disclosing to everyone how Hilly ate Minnie's "pie" and what Hilly did to Yule Mae. This reflects how Aibileen is able to demonstrate coercive power against the character that utilizes it the most.

The "looking glass self" can be seen in specific moments in the film's narrative, as well.  For example, when Charlotte verbally assaults Hilly when she confronts Skeeter, it is an example of how Charlotte sees herself through her daughter's eyes.  It is a looking glass moment in how Charlotte appropriates Skeeter's view of the world.  She sees herself the way her daughter wants to see her and acts accordingly.  It is for this reason that Charlotte, who is dying, tells Skeeter that "Courage skips a generation," reflecting that she sees herself in the way that another, namely her daughter, sees her.  The final scene in which Aibileen leaves to go find her own identity is another example of "the looking glass self."  For so long, Aibileen had seen herself as a silently suffering member of "the help." Yet, in seeing the power of her book and the effect it has had on others who are "the help," Aibileen sees herself as a transformative figure.  Mae Mobley becomes her last child because she sees herself through others' eyes.

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