The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

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In The Help, what are the rising action, falling action, and climax?

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To understand the rising action, climax, and falling action of The Help by Kathryn Stockett, it helps to first understand what each literary element is.

Rising action happens when complications, difficulties, or twists are revealed in the plot. It often ramps up the suspense as the story heads for a climax.

Climax is when the tension in the story is at its peak. It's the moment a story builds to and is often known as the crisis point.

Falling action is what happens after the climax when the most important issues in a story are resolved. It helps the audience relax after the tense crisis point.

The Help centers on several characters in 1960s Mississippi: Aibileen Clark, a maid; Minnie Jackson, an outspoken maid who is frequently fired; and Skeeter Phelan, a recent college graduate who has returned home and decides to write a book about the inequities in the treatment of white and black servants. 

The rising action in The Help happens at several points. One of the most important issues in the novel is the publication of the book Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minnie are working on; the other is the mystery of what happened to Constantine, Skeeter's maid, who was gone when she returned home from college. 

The rising action that surrounds the publication of the book includes Skeeter stealing a book on Jim Crow laws from the library, the editor saying that the book won't be read if it isn't in New York by December 21, and the call saying the manuscript was received. The tension builds because the reader is unaware whether the book will be published and what the outcome will be.

The rising action around the mystery of Constantine comes from Aibileen explaining that Constantine had a daughter who she gave up for adoption. Years later, the adult woman returned to find her mother, who was working for Skeeter's mother while Skeeter was at college. Aibileen gives Skeeter the rest of the story in writing.

The climax of the book happens both when Skeeter finds out the whole story about Constantine and when the women find out whether the book will be published. Skeeter learns that her mother made Constantine and her daughter leave because Constantine's daughter was passing as a white woman. Constantine died after leaving Mississippi. 

The women find out their book will be published, but they will be paid a small amount each.

The falling action in the story is what happens as a result of the book's publication. The relationships between Skeeter, Minnie, Aibileen, and the people of Jackson play out. Hilly, one of the antagonists, is enraged and determined to figure out who the novel is about and publicly shame them. Skeeter finds a job and prepares to leave Jackson. Minnie finds out she'll keep her job as long as she wants. Aibileen retires from her position and continues writing the newspaper column. 

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The book project that Skeeter, Minny, and Aibileen work on (with the help of many local maids in Jackson) stands at the center of this novel. Much of the novel is structured around this book project, with the rising action, climax, and falling action being largely defined by the state of the book project. 

Though the book project itself does not represent the central set of conflicts in the novel, it does relate to these conflicts and expose them. For this reason, we can track the rising action, climax and falling action in relation to the book project. 

The rising action of the novel occurs as Skeeter and Aibileen recruit help on the book project, while also navigating the difficulties of life in Jackson. Most of the novel's episodes of tension, action and minor conflict take place as part of the rising action: Aibileen potty training Mae Mobley; Skeeter's enmity with Hilly; Skeeter's relationship with Stewart; Celia's pregnancy and miscarriage; the Benefit, etc.  

After the Benefit, the novel quickly heads toward the climax and the book project is published. The climax of the novel takes place over the days following the publication of the book. Skeeter, Minny, and Aibileen wait for the book to impact the community. This is the high point of tension in the novel and soon the central conflicts of the text are fully articulated. Hilly confronts Skeeter and backs down. Aibileen is fired from her job. Minny leaves her husband. 

Each of these events is an element of a rather large climax in the novel, leading to the resolution of the story lines of each of the three main characters. 

The falling action actually begins to take place before the climax has been fully articulated, as Skeeter's conflicts are resolved before those of Aibileen and Minny. 

The falling action essentially considers the outcome of the book project as it has improved conditions and understanding for some fo the maids in Jackson. The book also opens the eyes of many of the maids' employers. 

The writing of the book helps to bridge the differences between the white women and the black maids; and they all worked together to dissolve that line between “us and them.”

As Aibileen is fired and Hilly still commands some degree of power, the positive outcome of the book project is not absolute. 

Another result of the book's success is Skeeter's move to New York. She has exhausted all the good will of her former friends in Jackson and has no avenues through which to pursue her ambitions.

Aibileen tells her to go to New York and “find her life.”

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What are the rising actions to the climax of The Help?

At its core, The Help is a book about a book. The three main characters – Aibileen Clark, Minny Jackson, and Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan – are compiling a book about the lives of the black maids of Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1950s and early 1960s. The climax will come after the book is published and received by the community of Jackson, Mississippi. Below are steps that lead to the climax.

  • Skeeter gets an encouraging letter from Elaine Stein at Harper & Row. At the same time, she gets the assignment to write the weekly Miss Myrna household hints column for the Jackson Journal. She asks Elizabeth Leefolt’s permission to interview her maid, Aibileen Clark, to help supply the answers. Skeeter and Aibileen begin to meet. Eventually Aibileen mentions that, before he died, her son Treelore had begun writing a book about what it was like to be black and to work for whites in Mississippi (Chapter 6).
  • Skeeter runs with Treelore’s idea and thinks a book about the white employers and black maids of Jackson would be worthwhile. She asks Aibileen for her help with it. The maid initially says no (Chapter 7).
  • After hearing too much about Hilly Holbrook’s “initiative” about separate bathrooms, Aibileen calls Skeeter and agrees to help with the book (Chapter 9)
  • Aibileen starts reading her writing to Skeeter. Minny agrees to share her stories, too (Chapter 12).
  • Yule May, who works for Hilly Holbrook, tells Aibileen that she may agree to share her stories with Skeeter (Chapter 16).
  • Yule May is arrested and put in jail for stealing a ring from the Holbrooks. She writes an apologetic letter to Skeeter. The other maids in the community are incensed by what has happened to their friend. Now they all want to talk to Skeeter and be included in the book (Chapter 19).
  • The publisher moves up the deadline, and Skeeter and Aibileen have to rush to finish the book. They and Minny decide on “Help” as a title. They also decide to add Minny’s “Terrible Awful” story for insurance against Hilly Holbrook “outing” Jackson. Skeeter mails the manuscript at the post office in time, she hopes (Chapter 27).
  • Skeeter hears from Harper & Row. They want to publish the book (Chapter 28).
  • The book is published and arrives in Jackson. A favorable review appears on local television. Aibileen’s church and the black community quietly support both the maids and Skeeter (Chapter 29).
  • Minny hears Hilly’s scream in the middle of the night, meaning that she reached the part about the pie (Chapters 32 and 33).

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