The Help, by Kathryn Stockett (2009) is a novel set in Jackson, Mississippi during the civil rights movements of the 1960s. It follows the lives of three women –one white, a recent college graduate, and two black maids. The book was a huge success and was turned into a major motion picture. However sadly like many overnight sensation novels The Help has an interesting storyline but is poorly executed. One problem I had with the writing of this novel was the contrasts she drew about the dialogues of the characters.
In the book the author tells that one of the characters, Celia Foote, speaks incorrect English because of the poverty she was raised in (another character, Minnie, comments on her accent and way of speaking) however, when Celia speaks in the book her dialogue is impeccable. This is shown in the quote (for the purpose of differentiation, Celia’s speech is shown in italics and Minnie’s in bold) “They don’t like me because of what they think I did… They don’t like you ‘cause they think you white trash. Celia has been said to speak in the same way as the black maids, but when she and Minnie are conversing they speak entirely differently. Note the way that because is pronounced- Minnie has obliterated the ‘be’. The contradiction the author has used suggests her incompetency as a writer. Another is the way this book was billed. The Help is said to be a true to events, accurate recount of life in the South in the 60’s, but the reader does not have to look too deeply into the book to tell that this is untrue.
Perhaps if the writer had spent a little more time researching the era she was going to write in her novel would be worthy of this acclaim. it is clear to almost anybody who reads the novel that she is totally unworthy of this praise and it is disgraceful that she does not seem to care that she is misinforming the readers of her book if they take her word for how life was in the South.
This book became wildly successful only because it was thrown in the faces of those who would read it without really thinking into it, enjoying the idea of a white saviour to make America’s dark black civil rights history seem like it wasn’t really so bad. The very idea that the book is based on- that black maids would become so trusting of a white woman who also happens to be friends with their employer, to allow their stories about how difficult it is to work for the white upper class, is so far fetched that it borders on insanity. Stockett then proceeds to illustrate her story to seem s though it would be perfectly plausible. Whilst this would be perfectly fine if Stockett had ensured that the book was received as an entirely fictious work, Stockett also manages to belittle or remove the two most powerful influences of the time; racism and male dominance. I believe this to be because the two did not fit in properly with the storyline and how she wanted it to go- instead of rising to the challenge and changing her plot a little to incorporate the two, she once again proves her lack of any real eloquence in writing.
I would go so far as to say that her imagination was the only reason she made it in the writing industry as it was definitely not her writing prowess. She wanted her antagonist (or heroine I feel she would prefer), a white upper class woman, to be completely blame free, and so blamed any racism, although to her credit there was very little, on the way she was raised, and blamed her mother for it all. (she does the same for Elisabeth’s daughter, saying that she will also grow up to be racist).
Then she draws a complete parallel with Hattie, who is an extreme racist and whose mother is one of the least racist characters in the book. Hattie did not learn her racism from her mother, therefore Stockett cannot make the claim that the parents of a child are to blame. Nevertheless, my experience from reading The Help was not a purely negative one. There were many moments in the story that if I just ignored the constant contradictions in the text I found very moving or entertaining.
The dedication Skeeter showed to finding her old maid Constantine, who raised her, and the evident love she had for her, was incredibly touching. Tying her into the story and revealing that it was because of her that Skeeter is not racist was possibly one of the only smart literary moves the author made –that is if you look past the fact that everyone else in her social circle and their parents were raised in the exact same way and not a single one of them turned out like Skeeter.
The way that Abileen cared for Mae Moebly was also very touching, and the words “you is kind, you is smart, you is important” have become synonymous with The Help. These two aspects can be linked together in more than just how touching they both were. (although from what I can gather of Stockett’s writing ‘prowess’ or lack thereof, I cannot decipher whether or not this was purposeful) The way that Abileen cares for Mae Moebly and how Mae sees her more as her mother than her own mother Elizabeth, is a representative for how Skeeter was raised by Constantine instead of her own mother, and xplains why Skeeter was so desperate to find Constantine. Overall, I was incredibly disappointed with this novel as the author butchered an amazing concept that, had it been in an accomplished writers hands could have been an incredible story. The author has a very talented imagination, but perhaps it would be better for her to in future just create the concept and allow someone who actually has some degree of eloquence to write the actual novel, or alternatively to hire an editor who actually knows how to proofread for contradictions.