Review: The Help- Kathryn Stockett

When Stockett began writing The Help, she did so to understand what it was like for her black maid Demetrie to work for a white family in Mississippi, America.  She had no idea that her debut novel would amazingly spend more than 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and would turn into a major motion picture. Justified in its popularity and the recognition it undoubtedly deserves, The Help is one of the must-read novels of the year and stays with you long after you have turned the last page.

The novel takes the reader to the world of 1960s America and its everyday life of racial segregation. While black women worked as maids in the homes of white women, cooking them meals and even looking after their children, they were not trusted to steal the silver and were even expected to use their own toilet. The novel continuously strikes you with its expectations of black people, emphasising the boundary lines that exist between the two races in everyday society. Hilly Holbrook is the villain of the novel, as she even campaigns for white families to have a separate bathroom for their black maids within their homes. These relentless, deeply entrenched racial prejudices however are challenged by three women.

Aibileen is a maid who works for the Leefolt family. She dotes on the Leefolt’s young daughter- the seventeenth white child she has raised- while nursing pain and heartache caused by the death of her own son. Her closest friend Minny is also a maid and is described as the ‘sassiest woman in Mississippi’ who has been fired nineteen times by the white women she works for. Minny is a wonderful and very talented cook who can make the most beautiful home made caramel cake. Skeeter Phelan is a 22 year old white girl, pressurised by her mother to attract a potential husband and marry well. Skeeter likes to write and dreams of being a writer in New York city, while at the same time dwells on what happened to her childhood maid, Constantine. Stockett expertly adopts the persona of Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter in showing how the lives of three very different women come to weave together to form an extraordinary story.

Exploring 1960s America and its deeply rooted prejudice towards black people, Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter embark on a dangerous project to overcome boundaries, and change the way a small town  in Mississippi views racial discrimination forever. I think the reason I was so truly touched by this beautiful novel was that only a few weeks ago, I read Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin. It describes the lynching of a black man in America, and is one of the most horrific and distressing pieces of writing I have ever read. The Help in a way counteracted this, simultaneously challenging the lie told by Gone With The Wind that black slaves were contented and happy.  Stockett’s novel is filled with hope and humour throughout that gives a fresh take on the question of race. Aibileen sums it up perfectly as she views herself and her white employer,

We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.

The Help is a humorous, heartbreaking read that exposes the American truths of race of the 1960s. A universal novel that explores an issue just as important now as it was back then, The Help is a beautiful and deeply moving masterpiece that is one of the best novels I have ever read.

Rating: 5/5

Do I recommend you to read it? Yes. This is a novel that everyone should read.

Genre: general fiction