To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

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How is The Help (movie) related to the book To Kill a Mockingbird character-wise?  

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One of the great characters in TKAMB is Atticus's housekeeper, Calpurnia. Calpurnia's story is not at the center of novel, but we see bits and pieces of it around the edges. There is, for example, the part where Calpurnia takes Scout and Jem to her chuch on a Sunday whe Atticus is away. In this brief scene, we get a sense for what the black community is really like -- it is a detour into the lives of people at the margins of the book, like a look backstage, or a glimpse into a forbidden world. It is true that when Calpurnia shows up at First Purchase AME church, there is some trouble. Lula confronts Calpurnia:

“I wants to know why you bringin‘ white chillun to nigger church.”

“They’s my comp’ny,” said Calpurnia. Again I thought her voice strange: she was talking like the rest of them.

“Yeah, an‘ I reckon you’s comp’ny at the Finch house durin’ the week.”

Calpurnia is in a hard place. She has transgressed, in a way: her feelings for the Finch children (which she calls "hers" when she is dressing them) blur the boundaries between family member and servant, or, even, white and black. She is letting Jem and Scout in on the "secret" world of black folk, showing them a side of her that is new and strange. She is showing them, in short, that she is a person, just like them.

In the film The Help, we have similar themes. Like Calpurnia, Viola Davis' character Abilene is in effect the mother of her employer's children; also a bit like Calpurnia, Octavia Spencer's Minny is in effect the equal or "friend" of her employer. Much of the conflict in the film comes from negotiating the shifting boundaries of white and black, employer and employee, or servant and friend. Like TKAMB, The Help illustrates the inherent racism and double standards blacks must endure. Another similarity to the church episode in TKAMB is that the film is about the "hidden" lives of the maids, and the webs of personal relationships and rivalries that motivate the characters. Far from just being "the help," the maids in The Help, like Calpurnia, are powerful individuals in their own right.

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