This book is the one with the nicest story I happen to read in a couple of years, so I really hope that this post about it is going to be my nicest of them all!
I read the book extremely quickly, it always happens like that to me when I enjoy reading something and I loved the nice, warm and good feeling it gave me while turning the pages because as the Sunday Times puts it this is an ‘unputdownable’ piece of a story. And that is the big truth in just one word!
This is Kathryn Stockett’s first novel. She was born in Jackson, Mississippi and that’s exactly the place in which the action takes place in The Help. At the same time, she manages to give a personal touch to the book when, at the end of it, she recounts her early ages and her family’s maid, Demetrie.
The main characters in the novel are two coloured maids, named Aibileen and Minny, and Miss Eugenia Phelan, nicknamed Miss Skeeter. She is the one who tries to make a change in the world they’re living. She wants to become a journalist and a writer and she has the initiative of writing a book helped by the coloured maids in which they give their testimony and confessions about their lives as maids and ‘help’ of the white, rich ladies. Secrets are releaved along the good and the bad stories of their lifetime experiences in a period in which coloured were still seen as objects or properties. Even if the beginning of this action seemed extremely difficult, step by step, the number of the helps willing to collaborate with Miss Skeeter increases while the dangers of doing as such are still there.
I’ve always loved the stories in which there are shifts of point of view and we, as readers, get to receive many perspectives of the same events. In The Help we have three voices (of the three main characters) who tell the story, continuing it, chapter by chapter, from where one voice left it. The discourse of the two maids is very colourful and evoques the exact time and places in a genuine manner. At the same time, the humour, alongside drama and, at times, bits of tragedy, gives a touch of real life in which good comes along the bad and laugh is sometimes a sweet escape.
Miss Skeeter represents the young, intelligent woman who doesn’t feel at home in her own house, who doesn’t believe in old traditions only because they’re there from the very past and who dreams big and acts in order to acomplish something in which she truly believes. She represents a modern young woman, stuck in a very traditional, rural place in which the mentality has seen no change within generations. I am sure that there are lots of young women out there who see themselves portrayed as Miss Skeeter from this book. 🙂
There are plenty of good lines in this novel but the extract I choose to share with you is about the rules the maids have to follow while attending a white lady. They were told to Minny by her mother when she was 14 years old and had her first job as a help:
„Rule Number One for working for a white lady, Minny: it is nobody’s business. You keep your nose out of your White Lady’s problems, you don’t go crying to her with yours- you can’t pay the bill? Your feet are too sore? Remember one thing: white people are not your friends. They don’t want to hear about it. And when Miss White Lady catches her man with the lady next door, you keep out of it, you hear me?
Rule Number Two: don’t you ever let that White Lady find you sitting on her toilet. I don’t care if you’ve got to go so bad it’s coming out of your hairbraids. If there’s not one out back for the help, you find yourself a time when she’s not there in a bathroom she doesn’t use.
Rule Number Three: when you’re cooking white people’s food, you taste it with a different spoon. You put that spoon to your mouth, think nobody’s looking, put it back in the pot, might as well throw it back.
Rule Number Four: You use the same cup, same fork, same plate every day. Keep it in a separate cupboard and tell that white woman that’s the one you’ll use from here on out.
Rule Number Five: you eat in the kitchen.
Rule Number Six: you don’t hit on their children. White people like to do their own spanking.
Rule Number Seven: (…) You sass a white woman in the morning, you’ll be sassing out on the street in the afternoon.”
I saw the way my mama acted when Miss Woodra brought her home, all Yes Ma’aming, No Ma’ aming, I sure do thank you Ma’ming. Why I got to be like that? I know how to stand up people.
I also found a very nice line close to the end of the book, said by Miss Skeeter’s mother regarding Constantine, the help she had an entire life:
They say it’s like true love, good help. You only get one in a lifetime.
P.S. I highly recommend the movie too. It’s difficult to follow at the beginning without previously reading the book, but I confess, I shed some tears while watching it even if I already knew what was going to happen.
The 2012 Academy Awards, Octavia Spencer won the best supporting actress Oscar for the role of Minny in the movie The help.