The elements that excelled and those that fell short in The Help
In 1862, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Abraham Lincoln; over 200 years ago, so surely this guarantees equality between black people and white people. But 1960s Mississippi knows all too well the discrimination that persists within its borders. In Stockett’s The Help, the inner lives of Jackson maids working for white families are portrayed honestly and directly. The story follows the journey of Aibileen, Minnie, and their white ally Skeeter as they embark on their quest for justice. The Help is an all too true reality and history lesson of living in a segregated nation that leaves you empowered and thirsty for justice.
Elements Stockett did well
Stockett excelled in making the book as realistic as possible while still providing hope to the reader. Instead of displaying cacophonous roars of frustration by a prejudiced society, she instead portrays quiet uprisal and gradual changes, which is much more historically accurate. Though we desired to see Aibileen talk back to her employer Ms. Leefolt, and stand up for herself, the rebellion would be dangerous, putting her life and safety at stake.
Like real people, the characters had their flaws as well. It’s easy to oversimplify and state that all whites were malicious slave owners while all black people were innocent victims of this. However, Stockett does a great job of showing the duality of humans, and that there can be good and bad to both stories. For example, Minnie’s husband regularly beat her while Skeeter was one of Aibileen’s biggest allies. Like everything else, history existed on a spectrum with a muddled divide and gray areas. But at its core, the African American community was given unequal rights and opportunities despite them being equal to their white counterparts, revealing a discriminatory racial climate.
Additionally, Stockett implemented historical events to evoke a sense of realness; that these events actually happened and aren’t a made-up story. She uses pop culture references such as the landing of the moon, the JFK assassination, and the MLK march, but then ties them to how they impacted the black community. These elements force people to think about the history and how the black community functioned during this time.
Lastly, the dialogue used is simple yet profound. The passages are easy to follow, yet the words have a great impact on the readers, allowing them to easily think about the unjust circumstances. The speech illustrated between Aibileen and Elizabeth further reflects the personalities and divide between the characters.
Elements that could be improved
The one element of the book I wasn’t 100% sold on was the Skeeter and Stuart dynamic. It felt as though it was a superfluous romance with no contributing purpose to the theme of the overall story. In addition, Stuart had to poke and prod incessantly for Skeeter to finally agree to go out with him; his alcoholism wasn’t the least bit flattering and his attempts feigned an air of juvenile arrogance.
Though, I suppose it was refreshing to see a woman who wasn’t conventionally attractive finding a romantically fulfilling relationship with a successful and prestigious man. Typically, we see the opposite in that an average guy can bag the most attractive and successful women. Nevertheless, this dynamic didn’t seem relevant to the overall theme of the book.
Through realistic portrayals, historically accurate events, and elegant dialogue, Stockett excels in writing a solid 9/10 novel worth reading a hundred times over. Although not all elements fit my personal taste, it’s a modern-day classic that will have you returning to it over and over again. I recommend The Help to all people looking to gain a deeper insight into the history of African Americans and the power a little hope and ambition has, it’s an essential for readers of all ages and backgrounds.