In The Help, what are some of the issues raised by the fact that a white woman is the author and a contributor to a book about the experiences of black maids?

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It tells us a lot about Southern society at the time that only a white person is able to tell the stories of African Americans. Aibileen and Minnie have one heck of a story to tell, but until Skeeter arrives on the scene, no one's interested in hearing it. As well as their lowly status as domestic servants, their race precludes them from being taken seriously by white society. The idea that African Americans—servants or otherwise—have anything important to say simply doesn't occur to many white people in this part of the world.

That's why it's deemed necessary for someone to whom white society can relate (i.e., Skeeter) to tell the women's story. This makes Skeeter's task all the more difficult. On the one hand, she has to shape the women's narrative so as to make it palatable to a largely white audience. On the other, she must do justice to the women's stories and convey the full range of their experiences with the utmost fidelity to the truth.

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The Help is set in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi. The Jim Crow laws are still in effect in the Deep South. Black and white people aren’t supposed to socialize or fraternize with one another. Many services are still kept separate. Black people have their own library and doctors. Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny are risking a lot when Skeeter meets them at Aibileen’s house at night to write down their stories. All of them could get into trouble with the authorities, especially the black women. Trust is also an issue. Can the black maids trust Skeeter to report the truth as they tell it to her? Or will she feel free to spin their tales in a way that will always make the white employers look good?

The black maids eventually realize Skeeter is not like the other women in the Jackson Junior League. She is truly interested in reporting fairly on the lifestyle arrangement they have all been sharing together, although it’s one they never talk about. She is giving them an outlet to let the truth come out.

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