What aspects of The Help display examples of conformity and the individual?

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

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The characterizations in The Help display distinctive aspects of conformity and the individual.

Skeeter is one such character.  She is portrayed as being fundamentally uneasy about belonging to Southern segregationist society. Initially, she acquiesces to many parts of it because of her friendship with Hilly Holbrooke.  However, it becomes clear that she cannot accept Hilly and the entire social setting that embraces prejudicial attitudes towards African-Americans.  Skeeter also displays the idea of individuality and conformity in how she refuses to do what others want in terms of marriage and "settling down."  Skeeter wants to pursue her own dreams of writing, thereby refusing to conform to the assimilation that surrounds her.

The pressure to conform is also exerted upon African-Americans in The Help. There is intense pressure to accept the conditions around them and not speak out.  Aibileen experiences this when Skeeter first approaches her about the book.  She recognizes that the conformist forces around her dissuade her from speaking out.  It is for this reason that Aibileen faces initial rejection from the community as a result of her participation in the book. However, she follows her own individual voice and seeks to enlist others, like Minnie, in the book's creation.  When Aibileen leaves to strike out on her own path, it is clear that she has rejected what society says and seeks to find and harness her own individual voice.  The last scene where Aibileen is walking confident in who she is and what she does conveys her new focus on individualism.

Skeeter's mother is another character who represents an example of conformity and the individual.  She embraced conformity in how she insisted that Skeeter "find a man and settle down."  This extends to wanting Skeeter to be more "lady-like."  These typify the social standards to which women in the South were to conform.  When Skeeter's mother dismisses Constantine for fear of her reputation, she demonstrates the "fitting in" that her child abhors.  However, she displays an individualistic attitude when she confronts Hilly and stands up for Skeeter.  In telling her child that "courage skips a generation" and in thanking her for bringing it back, Skeeter's mother shows the entire spectrum of someone who initially conforms and then later embraces individuality.

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