What ideas or issues are explored through the composer's use of literary devices in The Help?

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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a novel that is centrally concerned with issues of human equality, the author, Kathryn Stockett, utilizes one strategy in particular to communicate this idea - - dialect. 

The Help is narrated by three characters (Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter). Two of these characters' narratives are rendered in dialect. This strategy serves to demonstrate the depth of emotion, quality of intellect, wit and wisdom of the characters despite the fact that the prevailing opinion of people in their demographic in Jackson. 

Counter to the race-oriented biases of people like Miss Hilly, Aibileen and Minny are shown through their narration to be competent and insightful. These qualities are, however, rendered in dialect. The importance of this choice can be seen as a way to show that the manner of speech which Aibileen and Minny use in conversation and internally is not inferior to that used by their Caucasian counter-parts. 

In using dialect, Stockett is emphasizing differences between characters but is also emphasizing an equivalence of humanity between characters of differing social positions. Importantly, Stockett does not try to suggest that "all people are the same." Rather, by using dialect, she creates a novel wherein differences are acknowledged but do not imply any inferiority or superiority. People are different. Their differences are not differences of value, however, they are differences of language, perhaps, or of expression, etc. 

Some critics have commented negatively on the fact that Skeeter's chapters are not also rendered in dialect.

"Janet Maslin from the New York Times, said, 'The trouble on the pages of Skeeter's book is nothing compared with the trouble Ms. Stockett's real book risks getting into. Here is a debut novel by a Southern-born white author who renders black maid's voices thick, dated dialect' (eNotes). 

This is a valid point, as Skeeter is just as southern as Aibileen and Minny, as we see in her speech/dialog. Nonetheless, the use of dialect stands out as the principal technique in support of the novel's central themes. 

Also worth noting is the novel's use of suspense. Much of this suspense is generated through dramatic irony. Certain characters (and the reader) are aware of things that other characters in the narrative are not. For example, Minny knows that a particular pie has feces in it. Miss Hilly does not. Larger issue of dramatic irony surround the book that these central characters are putting together, but dramatic irony is also used heavily in the Minny-Miss Celia story-line. 

The tension of the novel's second half is mainly related to the secret of the book, which appears repeatedly as a device of dramatic irony.

"She staring at my face. I have to look down. I can feel the hot secret between us."

In a novel ostensibly concerned with social issues, we might pause to consider just how effectively the book uses suspense to drive the interest of the narrative. The Help reads, at times, like a comedic thriller (which is not exactly a common genre).

There are many moments of straight-forward humor in the novel that help to generate this sense of category. The humor (another device used) and suspense of the novel are essentially unrelated to the heavier social issues the novel deals with, making the book something of an anachronism. A work expressing a contemporary set of values regarding race and racism, The Help is also a page-turning piece of entertaining literature. 

There may be some significance to this idea if we take the light-hearted side of the novel as a suggestion of a moral theme -- try not to take yourself too seriously and try to enjoy, empathize and understand others without judging them. In people, as in this novel, there is more going on than one might first guess.