Tuesday, November 10, 2009
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Life in 1962 was a time of upheaval and restlessness. Desegregation and Civil Rights were the war cries of the day, affecting everyone in the United States, especially in the Southern states.
But no where was it felts as intimately than in the everyday lives of the wealthy folks of Jackson, Mississippi and the women who worked in their homes as domestic help. 1962 would be a year they would never forget.
In her debut novel, “The Help,” author Kathryn Stockett pulls from her childhood memories of growing up in Mississippi to bring an amazing story of friendship and the changing social climate that swirled around the ladies of the South in the mid 1960s. Stockett tells the stories of three women, whose lives intersect and meld in a way that would change their lives and the lives of those around them forever.
Having just graduated from Ole Miss, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan has returned home determined to pursue her dreams of being a writer. As she fends off her mother’s plots for finding her a man, and her childhood friends’ hectic social lives, Skeeter longs for the companionship of Constantine, the family’s maid who had raised her from childhood and who had been her confidant, but she is no longer there, and no one will tell where Constantine has gone or why she left – a mystery that Skeeter is determined to solve.
A proud black woman, Aibileen has worked for the white folks of Jackson for decades, raising and caring for their children, seventeen in all. Caring for her current employer Miss Elizabeth’s baby girl means the world to Aibileen, but the indignities she faces is sometimes more than she can bear. When Skeeter asks for her help, something inside Aibileen tells her that it is the right thing to do, even if it means exposing years of secrets tucked away in her heart.
And then there is Minny – Aibileen’s best friend and a sassy lady whose mouth seems determined to keep her in hot water with her employers and her friends. Minny is well know for her cooking, but a certain vengeful experiment with a chocolate pie cost her job and gave her a reputation for being trouble. But when a new lady in town desperately seeks out her help, Minny is determined to prove she is a decent and loyal worker…if she can just keep her mouth shut.
As Skeeter delves into searching for Constantine, she discovers a whole new world among the domestic help of Jackson. When she encourages the ladies to share their stories about their lives and work, Skeeter finds that world contains secrets, surprises and a skeleton or two that might should have been kept in the closet. But she also finds a new strength in herself, and in the ladies she interviews – a strength that could help change the world they know for the better.
Kathryn Stockett wrote this novel shortly after the events of September 11th. Experiencing deep homesickness for her childhood home in Mississippi, she began to write about her upbringing, and memories of her own family’s beloved maid and from these stories and remembrances sprang the remarkable novel that continues to grace the best-seller lists.
Set during the time of Martin Luther King, Jr., Medger Evers, and social upheaval, “The Help” is a fascinating look back at an era that changed the world, even if it started out with one story at a time.