Culture November 10, 2016
Skeeter wants to write about something that matters in “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. She just graduated from the University of Mississippi and returns home with a glorified homemaking degree, but she longs for more than the life of her friends who became wives and mothers.
Aibileen is a maid at Elizabeth’s house. As maid, Aibileen looks after her boss’s seventeenth baby, while mourning the premature death of her only son. She devotes herself entirely to the little girl in her care, knowing that her heart will one day break as the child grows older.
Aibileen’s best friend, Minny, is a spirited and sassy woman who likes to keep the town on a tight leash. Minny can cook like nobody’s business, but can’t seem to control her tongue. She finds herself working for a new person in town, but soon discovers her new boss is hiding some of her own secrets.
These three women couldn’t be more different from one another, but one plan brings them all together. Skeeter wants to tell their stories as “the help.” As an aspiring journalist, Skeeter decides to interview the reluctant employees about the terrible work conditions and the damage inflicted by their employers.
As the women tell their stories of what it’s like to be African-American women working in the South, these women learn not only about the women around them, but also themselves. Aibileen is finally able to talk about the death of her son and resolve her worries about her employer’s children. Minny learns the value of her sharp tongue and daring actions. And Skeeter realizes her future is far different than that of a housewife.
The underlying messages of the novel are about freedom, equality, the dangers of racism and the respect that all people deserve. Author Kathryn Stockett picks apart the dynamics between men and women of color and their white employers.
Each character explores these dynamics in the hotbed of racism and injustice that was the South in the 1960s. Skeeter fights for freedom from societal pressures, freedom to follow her dreams and freedom for those she now considers her friends. Aibileen searches for the opportunity to live and work on an equal footing for the women who happen to be her employers. Minny battles for the respect that all people deserve as human beings. Aware of her own worth, Minny he respects herself first and demands respect in return.
“All I’m saying is, kindness don’t have no boundaries,” says Aibileen. She, Minny and Skeeter show the world they aren’t that different from one another after all.
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