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“The Help” by Kathryn Stockett Essay

SETTING

The Help is set in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi , in Stocketts hometown The Setting is important for the plot of the book because Jackson is still known as one of the most segregated towns in the U.S”

MAIN CHARACTERS

The Help is told from the point of view of 3 different women, namely, AIBILEEN, MINNY, AND SKEETER. AIBILEEN is an African-American maid who cleans houses and cares for the children of white families. MINNY is also an African-American maid and she is Aibileen’s friend. She has frequently given her honest opinion to her employers with the result of having been fired many times. EUGENIA “SKEETER” PHELAN is the member of a rich white family whose cotton farm employs many African Americans in the fields and in the household. Skeeter has just finished college and comes home with the dream of becoming a writer although her mother rather wants her to get married. At that time, a “good” woman was supposed to get married, have children and be a good housewife and mother but for Skeeter it is her career that is most important.

PLOT SUMMARY

When Skeeter has turned back home she wonders where her former maid and nanny Constantine was. As her family always tries to avoid giving her answers about Constantine’s disappearance she finally finds out the truth, namely, she was fired for being too old and slow. Due to the injustice and cruelty that Constantine and other colored maids in the South have experienced, Skeeter decides to reveal the truth about being a colored maid in Mississippi and to write a book about it. She tries to connect with a group of black maids in order to gain their trust. A task that turns out to be quite difficult and tricky as writing a book about African Americans in the South during the early 1960s breaks social rules and puts all the black maids at risk.

Since the death of her 24-years-ols son Treelore it is Aibileen’ s first job in the Leefolt household. She mainly takes care of their baby Mae Mobley who she always calls baby girl.

Minny’s most recent employer Mrs. Walters is the mother of Hilly Holbrook who is the social leader of the community and head of the Junior League. One day the White population of the community decides to construct segregated bathrooms for the black servants as they think black people carrying diseases.

The decision for segregated bathrooms finally makes Aibileen agreeing on cooperating with Skeeter on her book about the black maids of Jackson and they begin spending their evenings together and build a friendship. Minny also agrees to work with them and they try to get other maids involved but they are all too frightened in the beginning.

One day Hilly’s maid Yule May asks Hilly to loan her 75$ to send her sons to college. When Hilly refuses her request Yule steals a ring. Hilly finds out about that and uses her influence to have Yule sentenced to four years in the state penitentiary. The other black maids are angry about Hilly and the way she treated Yule May so that they decide to tell their individual experiences to Skeeter.

Finally Skeeter’s book gets published anonymously and becomes a national bestseller. Soon, the white women of Jackson begin recognizing themselves in the book’s characters.

The book becomes a powerful force in giving a voice to black maids which causes Jackson’s community to strongly reconsider the system of segregation.

TRAILER A film adaptation of “The Help” was released in 2011. But just as an aside the film does not include all the events and details of the book and should not be considered as 1:1 illustration.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The Help takes place in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s during the civil rights era. Aibileen, Minny, and all the other African-American maids at that time took a grave risk in their fight against racial intolerance. By helping Ms. Skeeter write her book about black maids working for white families, all the maids took a chance of losing their job, their house, even their very own lives. The book demonstrates its theme of racial intolerance by using Hilly Holbrook as the enemy, a racist young white woman who is quick to display her distaste in blacks. The continuous struggle between Ms. Hilly and the maids shows that racial intolerance is significant aspect of the book.

This book connects to the cultural identity of America by displaying a fight against racism just like how civil rights activists fought for equality during the 1960s. If the majority of people did not gain the courage to fight against discrimination like the characters in the book were willing to, our society today would still be segregated. The Civil Rights act of 1964 protected the rights of people based on their race, and sex and prohibited racial segregation and discrimination against African Americans. This act was a huge step in eliminating racism and discrimination.

DEATH OF MEDGAR EVERS

The imagination of Medgar Evers death is very significant to the novel because it represents how dangerous it was to be African- American during the 1960s. He was a colored man fighting for change, fighting to be equal, but his brutal death terrified many people at that time. It made people believe that fighting for rights, or changing the norm, would ultimately put your life at an extreme risk. Evers death showed Aibileen and Minny how risky writing a book about working for white families actually was, and showed the readers how dangerous the situation could be.

The death of Evers also helps show the differences in the way the black and white communities of Jackson perceive current events. For the black community, Evers’s death is a major historical event. For the white community, it’s not something to even be discussed.

RACIAL INTOLERANCE

While “The Help” contains many topics amongst its pages, nothing is more salient to me than the topic of racial intolerance.

The novel shows that segregation doesn’t just mean that black and white people must live apart. It means that they can only interact in certain situations (mostly in which black people are serving white people in some capacity) and there are strict rules and norms about how they can act toward each other.

Because black people were considered inferior by most whites, and by the law, they were only allowed access to inferior living conditions, products, and services. jobs and educational opportunities for black people were few. Segregation negatively impacts every aspect of the lives of the black characters.

RECOMMENDATION

The help uses many rhetorical devices, but known more than colloquial language. Kathryn Stockett makes sure that each one of her characters sounds real. The reader doesn’t have to infer what it sounds like because it is written that way. Stockett’s use of colloquial language is continuous throughout the novel and varies as the characters change, for every few characters have distinct dialects or accents.

“I look deep into her rich brown eyes and she look into mine. Law, she got old-soul eyes, like she done lived a thousand years. And I swear I see, down inside, the woman she gone grow up to be… and then she say it, just like I need her to. ‘You is kind,’ she say, “you is smart. You is important.’

‘Oh Law.’ I hug her hot little body to me. I feel like she done just given me a gift. ‘Thank you, Baby Girl.'” (Stockett 520 -521)

We see in this excerpt that “you is kind” should actually be “you are kind”, but that is not the way Stockett wanted her character to speak. I liked that very much, because it made the characters appear even more real and I could imagine them better while reading the book. Moreover, the topic of the book was very interesting and although the book has 450 pages, it was quickly readable because it was an exciting book. I would really recommend it to everyone, because this book is a must-read I think.


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