It’s 7.11 PM, local time. And I…shouldn’t be here. Um. My finals are right around the corner. And yet, whenever I found the time, I’ve been reading The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.
My question to you guys is: Have you seen the movie?
Because I saw the movie before I read the book. And my advice is, don’t do that. Not only does it give the story away completely, but it also leaves you with a bad impression of the book. The movie’s good, of course. But the book is better.
The Help is about Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962. It’s a novel called The Help about the making of a book called The Help, written by the help. I’m not joking, that’s seriously what it’s about. It’s the story about black maids who tend to white households and their lives.
But I’ll give you a bit more detail.
Miss Skeeter is a young woman who’s come back home after completing her education. She has practically been raised by her beloved black maid, Constantine. When she gets home, she finds that Constantine’s gone, and no-one’s telling her why. Along with this, Miss Skeeter also wants to write, and she chances upon the brilliant idea of writing about black house help, about their lives working for white people. The good, the bad, the in-between.
However, we’re talking about Mississippi in the 1960s. We’re talking racism.
The first thing I thought when I began reading it was, Why am I not utterly, completely shaken and disgusted? I thought, so innocently, that anything written with the theme of racism in mind would leave me angry and dejected. It just commands activism, doesn’t it? It’s so easy for a writer to just go off on a tangent. (“DIE RACISTS! DIE SEXISTS! DIE GREEDY CORPORATES!”)
But Stockett has resisted doing that. This is very much a book about the trials of black house help, but instead of ranting about it like a hormonal teenager, the entire attitude of the book is sensible, learned and kind.
The book’s told through the perspective of three women:
All those pictures are taken from the movie, obviously.
Let’s talk about characters. They’re what bring this novel to life.
Aibileen: She’s in her fifties, sort of motherly. After the death of her son, Treelore, she’s become a little bitter. It’s her job to look after white children, and after Treelore’s death, she’s been looking after Mae Mobley Leefolt, daughter of Elizabeth Leefolt.
I like her. There’s something warm about her. She reminds me of a hug. However, she isn’t my favourite.
Miss Skeeter: Miss Skeeter, to an extent, reminds me of me. Which is why I like her so much, I guess. So it isn’t fair of me to make an opinion on her. So I’ll just describe her to you. She’s seriously tall, very bookish, and she feels a bit ‘out of it’ with her friends, because she doesn’t agree with half the things they say, anyway. Miss Skeeter’s lonely without being a whiny twit about it.
Minny: Hahaha! Minny, my love. Minny is Aibileen’s best friend, and is a sass-mouthing, spunky woman who doesn’t take nonsense from no-one. Except her husband. Who beats her every now and then. (“DIE SEXISTS!”)
Minny’s got so much panache. She’s hilarious. Most of all the funny stuff in the book is courtesy of her. So, yes, she’s one of my favourites. But she isn’t the most favourite.
Hilly: There’s no other word for this one. I’ve never encountered a character who’s such a…such a…(I’m thinking of a word. It starts with the letter ‘B’ and is the feminine form of a certain domestic animal.)
Hilly’s the antagonist. She’s Skeeter’s best friend for the first half the book, and Skeeter’s worst enemy for the next. She’s a liar and a schemer and she has no qualms about sending people to jail. Hilly Holbrook is a racist, selfish, cruel, spoilt brat. So naturally, she is one of my all-time favourite villain.
Celia Foote: She isn’t a main character but I’ve mentioned her anyway. This is because we have finally arrived at my favourite character.
I am having a lot of trouble figuring this one out. Because Celia Foote comes off as being cotton-candy stupid. She’s the giggly airhead sort, dousing herself with make-up and tight clothes that would, in Minny’s words, “Make a (prostitute) look holy.”
Celia is in fact, not prejudice. She hires Minny when no-one would and treats Minny like her best friend. Minny constantly refers to her as a fool, but it’s obvious how much Minny cares for her boss. And of course, how much her boss cares about her.
Celia is married to Hilly’s ex-boyfriend, Johnny. Naturally, that causes a lot of bad blood between them. Hilly makes sure Celia has no friends at all, and poor Celia doesn’t even know why. Celia doesn’t know how serious Hilly was about Johnny until he broke her heart.
I like Celia because she’s a good person. She’s hard to define: airheaded but smart, weak but strong. She’s a brilliant character. And she’s so much fun.
As for other elements in the book, like romance, let me just say that it’s TPR Approved. (The Parchment Review Approved). You know how nit-picky I am about romance, and the lovey-dovey stuff in The Help has a point. It’s not just aimless “Skeeter I love you/Stuart I love you”s or “Celia I love you/Johnny I love you”s. Every single thing adds to the experience of the story. It isn’t just a marketing gimmick.
The Help is a novel with a sensitive, and at times humorous writing style that makes a serious subject seem less heavy without taking a single shred of weight off it. It has a very powerful underlying message, but that message is obvious without being in-your-face. This book is like a well-laid meal. All of it tempting you to taste without forcing itself down your throat.
…Oh goodie. Now it’s 8.14 PM, local time, and my textbooks await. I told you, I shouldn’t have written this post anyway. Whatever. Thanks for reading. :P
I’ll be revamping my blog as soon as these finals end, so expect everything to change soon. But eh. I’ll put up an official post about it the next time I have an hour to kill.
See you when I see you!