The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

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What are three ethical issues displayed in the 2011 film The Help?

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The most obvious ethical issue both the movie and the book raise is that of racism. The white people in the movie largely accept a system that dehumanizes a group of people based on race. The ethical compass most people across the world currently accept as true says "do unto...

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others as you would have done unto you." If you—or your ethnic group—had some superficial physical difference from the dominant society, you would not wanted to be treated as subhuman; thus, you should not do this to others.

Second is the ethical issue of hypocrisy. The white women treat the black women as subhuman, and yet trust them to care for and raise their children while they gallivant off to parties, shopping, and card games. Obviously, the whites cannot think so badly of the black "help" if they trust them to spend so much time caring for their children, so it is hypocritical to treat black people as second-class citizens.

Third, the bandwagon syndrome the white women show is ethically questionable. White women start adding separate black bathrooms to their homes not because they necessarily believe it is a good idea, but because their neighbors, like queen bee Hilly, pressure them into it. As our mothers tell us, we shouldn't jump off bridges because everyone else is. An ethical stand would be to resist the peer pressure to adopt this racist policy.

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When Hilly Holbrook, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, fires Minny Jackson, played by Octavia Spencer, Minny bakes Hilly her famous chocolate pie in what seems like an attempt to placate her former employer and get her job back. However, it turns out that Minny has actually baked her own feces into the pie in order to humiliate Hilly, who eats two pieces. While the audience certainly applauds Minny's deception because we dislike Hilly, too, her choice certainly does present an ethical issue. An individual could become extremely physically ill from ingesting human waste. Further, is revenge ethically appropriate?

Hilly also spends time making the life of Celia Foote, played by Jessica Chastain, miserable. Hilly believes that Celia started dating Johnny, Celia's now-husband, before Hilly's own relationship with Johnny was over. Celia tries to reassure Hilly, only making Hilly more angry. Does Celia have some kind of obligation to Hilly? Hilly's treatment of Celia is incredibly mean, including asking all her guests to hide when she has a party so that Celia will think no one is there and go away. Is Hilly's treatment of Celia ethically justified by her feelings, or is she just being cruel?

Rather than risk her mother, played by Sissy Spacek, telling people that she ate poop pie, Hilly commits her to a nursing home. This way, if she does tell, Hilly can simply claim that she is senile or suffers from dementia. Hilly's actions present another ethical dilemma. Is her mother better off away from Hilly, living in a community in which she is cared for? Or is it cruel to put her in "a home"?

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One ethical issue portrayed in the movie The Help (2011) is the way in which parents neglect their children. For example, Elizabeth Leefolt ignores or humiliates her young daughter, Mae Mobley. Elizabeth's main interaction with her daughter is to disparage or discipline her, which Elizabeth's maid, Aibileen, sees but cannot comment on. Aibileen is not allowed to comment because she is African-American and Elizabeth is her white employer, creating a power dynamic in which Aibileen sees the way in which Elizabeth, who is suffering from postpartum depression, ignores her daughter but cannot voice her concerns.

Additionally, the way the maids are treated creates several ethical issues. Skeeter's mother, Mrs. Phelan, fires their long-time maid, Constantine, just because Constantine's daughter, Rachel, challenges Mrs. Phelan's friends about why they don't include her in their all-white organization, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and eats with the white women instead of staying with the African-American help. This is an ethical dilemma because Mrs. Phelan fires Constantine in an instant after Constantine has spent much of her life working for the Phelans.

Finally, while Skeeter achieves a great moral victory by publishing the stories of the African-American women and giving them a voice, her secrecy and anonymous publishing of these stories creates an ethical dilemma. Is she right to deceive her family and friends? Some readers might think so, but it is still an ethical question. 

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