You’ve read ‘Gone With the Wind’? That’s rhetorical, right? You have. So you must remember the wonderful relationship between Scarlett O hara and Mammy. Mammy is the loveable help – the one who dresses Scarlett, pulls her up for each tiny breach of etiquette and is always at hand to keep her dignity intact.
Did you ever wonder if Mammy had a life outside of Tara and the O hara’s? Yeah, nor did I. Mammy is smart and responsible and funny and yet her whole life revolves around Scarlett and her family. There is barely any ‘Mammy’ in Mammy.
Here’s a book that explores all of that, The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It tells the story of ‘Black maids who raised white children’ in Jackson Mississippi of the 60s. At the heart of the book is Skeeter or Eugene Phelan. All though she belongs to the ‘other side’ of the divide, it falls to her to tell the stories of these women.
Skeeter is an aspiring journalist. Fresh back from college she finds her maid of many years Constantine, has quit and gone. The absence bothers Skeeter even as she busies herself sending across job applications. She is offered work at the local paper. “Miss Myrna’s weekly cleaning advice column”, the job on offer, is a far cry from her dream but it’s a start and Skeeter is proud to be working.
Being a rich white man’s daughter, she hasn’t ever done any cleaning in all her life nor does she intend to learn. So she seeks advice from her friend’s maid Aibileen, offering to split her salary. During the conversation Aibileen mentions that Constantine had been fired (not quit as Skeeter was given to believe) and that starts off Skeeter on a journey into the lives of these women.
A book is born. A book with stories from maids, stories so real they seem unreal. It isn’t easy. First, it has to be kept a secret. Then the maids have to be convinced to open their hearts to Skeeter. However, once they do stories come spilling out including Constantine’s tale and a family secret too. The privileged Skeeter becomes the voice of the exploited maids.
Why I love her
Skeeter is a journalist and a reader. She follows her heart. I love that about her. Check out this quote from her:
“I always order the banned books from a black market dealer in California, figuring if the State of Mississippi banned them, they must be good.”
She certainly isn’t a follower of rules.
When Skeeter writes to an editor for a job she receives a reply, a line of which reads:
“Write about what disturbs you particularly if it bothers no one else.”
A perfect brief for a budding writer. Skeeter goes out and does just that. She’s a rare person with strong sense of justice and an even stronger sense of empathy. Few have the courage to stand up against people they love – friends and family – specially when it doesn’t affect them. It becomes even more difficult when sticking out their neck might lead to the worst kind of ostracism. Hilly and Elizabeth are Skeeter’s childhood friends and yet Hilly turns out to be the main antagonist.
Oh and in case you were wondering – this is not a sad soppy tale of exploited overworked women. This is a story of brave women told with a lot of spirit and barely a dull moment.
Linking up to ABC Wednesday . The letter of the week is ‘S’.