By Neha Saxena:
“Wasn’t that the point of the book? For women to realize, we are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I thought”Â — Skeeter in The Help.
The Help, a debut novel by Kathryn Stockett, explores the relationship between black maids and their high class white employers in Mississippi in the 1960’s. The story is narrated by 3 characters of the book — Two Black maids and One White girl. While Aibileen and MinnyÂ talk about what it is like working for White women and taking care of their kids, Skeeter talks about her journey of fulfilling her dream as a writer and her struggle with being an odd bird in the society. Hilly Holbrook, the dominating lady who is the leader of the pack, runs the Junior League and is keen on launching the new Sanitization scheme that will enforce the rule of creating separate toilets for the Black maids outside White houses.
While they do charity work for upliftment of Blacks in Africa, they treat their own coloured maids and workers poorly. The maids raise the White kids like their own, take care of their homes and dedicate their whole lives to these families only to get fired or killed for something as meagre as reading the Missus’s book. Skeeter, who is trying to find answers to why her beloved Constantine (the maid who raised her) disappeared without informing her, has difficulty in hiding her displeasure at Hilly’s attitude. She decides to write about the unfair stories of maids which is a brave yet risky thing to do in the era and town where Blacks get killed or rendered homeless at the drop of a hat.
The motherly Aibileen, the unabashed & witty Minny and brave Skeeter come together to work secretly on this project, all the while fearful of what might happen if their secret is discovered. None of the other maids agree to work with them because there is just too much danger involved; They would lose their families, jobs, house — everything. The Whites are too powerful. The murder of Medgar Evers encourages a dozen other women to come forward and speak up because they do not have much left to lose anyway. Their stories are full of bitterness and hatred but also of love and attachment.
Though the lengthy narrations by the characters are not boring there is often a tinge of self degradation & dejection on part of the maids. While reading the story of these brave ladies, one wants to join them in their fight for justice; in their quest of getting their voice heard. You feel upset when Yule May is fired with the false accusation of theft & taken away brutally by policemen. You feel angry when Hilly humiliates Aibi repeatedly in front of the whole League. You feel jubilant when Celia Foote asks Minny to have lunch with her every day. You want to squeal with delight when Hilly reads about ‘The Awful Thing’ in the book. And you feel furious when Skeeter’s fiancÃ© breaks off with her on knowing about the book.
Pieces picked up from own experiences with Black maids, Kathryn Stockett does a good job in creating a book which is an intense depiction of womanhood and its powers. This book is not just about racism. It is also about being courageous, fighting for justice, experiencing surreal relationships and exposing hypocrisy.