The Help is an eye opening story of a group of black maids and their female bosses in Jackson, Mississippi during the 1960’s. From the first page, Stockett plunges you into the difficult lives of these women living through a horrific time. They each have their own story and they are all equally compelling. Stockett engages you sharply from the first page. Its mind boggling to imagine that the 1960’s wasn’t so long ago and that these women were completely controlled by their bosses who had every power over them. Stockett doesn’t just focus on race issues though and what touched me the most were the female relationships explored in the book, between mother and daughter, ‘close’ friends and especially the black maids and their white ‘children’ (those that they looked after but basically raised.)
The chapters move back and forth between the voices of two maids and one white woman who stands out from the rest and is in some way an anti-heroine. Their voices are so distinct that I found I stopped reading the names written at the beginning of each chapter. Stockett’s ability to create such distinct voices is reminiscent of Barbara Kingsolver’s style in “The poisonwood bible”. You find yourself pondering the lives of each character as if you really knew them. You can’t help but really hear the voices of these women as she really writes as they speak (grammatical faults and all.) You almost feel privileged to be privy to the town gossip and these women’s inner lives, worries and thoughts.
It’s a little cliché but it will make you laugh out loud, sob, gasp from sheer hatred for the way your new female ‘friends’ are being treated . These characters will haunt you as you go about your everyday life and realize just how lucky we really are now. It wasn’t surprising to find out that Stockett was raised by a black maid to whom she was extremely close. However, I was saddened to find out later that many people were outraged by the ‘unfair’ description of the white women in the story which makes me wonder just how far our society really has come. She wrote (and we must not forget), a fictional story and not a work of non-fiction. Although with such good writing, it certainly feels like one.
Written by Kathryn from The French American Center