The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

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What is the theme of The Help?

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The Help, which was written by Kathryn Stockett in 2009, is a story that promotes change and social awareness. The book seeks to bring to light the racial inequalities of the time period it takes place, which is during the early 1960s. The novel follows three women who are maids for white families in Jackson, Mississippi. Skeeter Phelan is a young college graduate from New York. Skeeter returns to Jackson with plans to help change the world through writing and fighting for equality between whites and blacks in Mississippi. Skeeter’s first job as a journalist takes her into houses of upperclass white families where she discovers the injustices that maids face working in their homes day after day.

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This is a large novel with a number of themes, many of which relate to ideas of racial tolerance and race relations. Hypocrisy and integrity are themes subservient to the larger race-driven themes of the novel. 

The idea that racial perspectives are open to change is central to the...

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novel and presents what we might call the unifying theme of the novel - People can help one another to grow and change. Social change is possible as is individual change. This idea applies beyond race oriented themes, but is seen most poignantly within the context of race. 

Racial dynamics are the subject of Skeeter's first question to Aibileen in the novel: 

 Then she tries to apologize for the earlier conversation that she knows Aibileen heard, and she asks if she ever wishes things were different.

This question, of course, is expanded upon through the novel and becomes the foundation of a great deal of the action and risks taken by Skeeter, Minny, and Aibileen. The three women work toward social change regarding racial perspectives (tolerance and prejudice). 

The book project is directly related to ideas of how race creates a specific dynamic in the Jackson households where the maids are employed. It is race that creates and excuses the maids' treatment in these homes, that sits at the root of their difficulties in finding fair pay, and acts as the source of the abuse they suffer there. 

Racial politics forms much of the background for the novel as well, with reported episodes of racially motivated beatings and murder taking place in the novel. 

There is a negative and a positive side to the racially oriented themes in the book. Skeeter, Minny and Aibileen along with many other maids come together to create a book intended to expose racial bais and to foster greater tolerance and harmony.

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.” 

The book is intended to help the situation of domestic workers in Jackson and in the South generally.

This is another overarching theme of the text - help.

Not only does the book project seek to help improve things for maids in Jackson, but the central characters also help one another in times of need again and again. This is even true of Hilly who helps Skeeter get a date. Compassion and empathy are driving forces in the novel, as themes, and these qualities are also the positive elements behind the book project.  

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