What is The Help by Kathryn Stockett about?

Expert Answers
chsmith1957 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Help is a work of historical fiction set in Jackson, Mississippi, during the years 1962-1964. The time and place are marked by the strong racial divide between white and black people. The Jim Crow laws are still in effect. The American civil rights movement is just beginning. A key juxtaposition lies in the fact that most white households here employ black maids. At its core, this book offers insights in how women from the two races live and work under such circumstances: together yet separately, and certainly not equally.

The storyline unfolds in chapters told by three characters: Aibileen Clark, Minny Jackson, and Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan. Aibileen and Minny are maids. Skeeter is a young white woman who just graduated from Ole Miss. She grew up in Jackson, but after college sees her hometown with fresh eyes. She’s disturbed by the way her friends treat “the help.” Eventually, she interviews a number of the maids, including Aibileen and Minny, in order to publish a book about the relationships between maids and their employers in an unnamed city in the Deep South. The time is right for people to start talking about such things. By the end of the story, all three main characters have undergone changes in their lives. Aibileen—whose chapters both begin and end this book—may be considered the touchstone character and the one who is the most changed, both emotionally and intellectually. She has a wide-open future ahead of her.

You can also catch glimpses of the women’s rights movement here. Skeeter longs to land a job as a journalist, while all the other women in the Jackson Junior League focus on landing husbands, having children, and managing their households, including the staff. By the end of the 1960s, the ratio of working to stay-at-home women will have begun to change.

vjmessana | Student

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, is a story about race relations. The story takes place in Jackson, Mississippi, during the early 1960s. The main character is a young, budding journalist straight out of college, who wants to become published by a well known New York publisher.  She needs to find an issue to write about. She discovers that there is a major story in her very own hometown.

Almost every household in Jackson employs African American maids, who clean their homes and raise their children.  However, these maids are greatly discriminated against. An example of this is the fact that, in many cases, they are not even allowed to use the same bathrooms as their white employers.

The main character, Skeeter, convinces the maids, one by one, to share with her  the stories of their experiences in the homes at which they work. The result is a compilation of their stories that is published, but causes great scandal, in many cases, at the expense of several of the maids' jobs/household positions.