The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

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What is the tone and diction in The Help?

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The tone is serious and positive (empathetic) for Skeeter; the diction is formal, educated, and intelligent for Skeeter. The tone changes to a more sassy and negative for Minnie, but the diction still remains formal and educated. For Aibileen the tone is extremely serious and fearful, whereas the diction has a more informal style of speaking.

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Kathryn Stockett's novel The Help is told through the voices of Aibileen, Minnie, and Skeeter. In literature, tone refers to the speaker's attitude toward a subject. A tone can be, for example, humorous, serious, formal, or informal. In Stockett's novel, she uses tone and diction to create the distinct voices...

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of the characters who narrate the novel.

Aibileen is the first character to speak. She uses what used to be called "black vernacular language." Basically, she uses an informal style of speaking that includes the wrong form of the verb "to be." For example, "Miss Hilly be a angry woman" (this is not a direct quote but an example of the style of speech Aibileen uses). She often uses "a" rather than "an." From the diction, which is the word choice the author uses, readers can infer that Aibileen is not well educated. We also learn that she has a great love for the children she cares for and that she is very scared to participate in Skeeter's project. She fears the backlash the white women will create toward them for breaking the rules of "the help."

For Skeeter's voice, the author uses an entirely different tone and diction. Skeeter's tone is serious, as she is empathetic to the treatment of "the help," mainly because she was raised by a black maid who had a profound influence on her life. Through the diction and tone the author uses, we learn that Skeeter is intelligent and highly educated. We also learn that she is independent. She does not go along with the crowd like some of the other women do. She is certainly not subservient to Hilly, who seems to be the unspoken queen of the group.

For Minnie's voice, the author uses diction (word choice) to create a character who is sassy, back talking, bold, and doesn't take disrespect from anyone without having something to say about it. She is the type of person Skeeter needs to get her project off the ground. The tone used to develop the character of Minnie is slightly humorous, and slightly negative.

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The Help is told through the distinct voices of the three main characters in the story - Aibileen, Minnie, and Skeeter. The diction and tone used by each of these characters reflects her individual education and experience.

Aibileen has the least formal education of the three. Her life is filled with love for the white children she raises and for the Lord. Aibileen is very fearful of becoming involved with Skeeter's plans at first but comes to the conclusion that she cannot remain silent in the face of the continuing bigotry. By the end of the story, Aibileen is proud of the work the women have accomplished and is hopeful about her future.

Minnie is an out-spoken firebrand, one who doesn't suffer fools easily. She frequently gets herself in trouble with her employers because of her quick tongue, but she has a heart of gold for those she takes under her wing. She is amazed by Miss Celia's lack of understanding about many topics and undertakes to educate her about the proper ways of doing things. She agrees to become involved in the writing of the book after much resistance but works hard and long to bring it to completion.

Skeeter is a college graduate who understands that her degree means nothing in her hometown, but hasn't yet found a way to get to another place where she can become an individual in her own right. At first, she has no understanding of the risk she is asking the maids to assume - with time, she begins to comprehend some of the fears and circumstances she is imposing upon them when they agree to talk. Skeeter uses the ironies and contradictions between the old ways and the changes occurring in the contemporary world to battle the attitudes of her friends toward her ambitions and in regard to the ways in which they treat their help.

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What is the author's tone in The Help?

There are actually three different narrators in The Help, and though they have distinctly different tones, each combines to propel a theme of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to end racial prejudices and hatred in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s.

Aibileen: Aibileen weaves a story full of love for all the white babies she has helped raise. She especially connects with Mae Mobley, whose mother all but neglects her and tears down her young self-confidence at every turn. Even Aibileen notes that Mae Mobley "ain't cute," but she adores the little girl's heart, which is of utmost importance to Aibileen. She really tries to give the little girl a foundation of love to face a world that seems so full of backstabbing and hatred. Aibileen is dear to her circle of friends, and they note that she has a direct line to God in her prayers. She is hardworking, honest, and compassionate. She is also fearful in the beginning of helping Skeeter with her book because she understands the realities of Jackson, Mississippi during this time. She witnesses the injustices every day. Aibileen's tone is overall quite gentle, which is why her actions can sometimes be surprising and humorous.

Skeeter: Skeeter has grown up with all of the advantages in life. She's a white girl in Mississippi during this time, and that puts her on the more convenient side of social equality. She has a college degree and a comfortable lifestyle, having grown up with "help" around her house. Skeeter breaks company with her longtime (racist and condescending) childhood friends in order to try to tell the stories of the black women who have sacrificed so much to serve white families. Skeeter becomes a social outcast among the socialites, but she doesn't mind as she has higher goals than the approval of flighty, racist white women. Her tone is overall witty as she circumvents many social norms to illustrate the truth in print.

Minny: Minny is the dichotomy found in so many women. She is simultaneously strong, encouraging other black women to speak out and orchestrating the unforgettable retribution against Hilly, and vulnerable, often suffering abuse from her own husband. She bonds with Celia, who desperately needs her help in figuring out how to maintain a household; she also learns through Celia that not every white person is mean at her core and that some can be trusted. Minny is filled with sass, and she refuses to sit quietly and do as she's told. She is at first apprehensive of Skeeter's project, noting, "What am I doing? I must be crazy, giving a white woman the sworn secrets of the colored race to a white lady . . . Feel like I'm talking behind my own back." Yet she comes around and rallies others, too. Minny's voice is frank, always being quite clear where she stands.

Together, this beautiful blend of voices creates a story that is humorous, painful, touching, and poignant. The three women unite in voice and spirit to show that a collective force of diverse women can change society, one community at a time.

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