When the Help need help

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

Skeeter’s story

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.

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Linking up to ABC Wednesday .  The letter of the week is ‘S’.

abc 17 (1)

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24 thoughts on “When the Help need help

  1. Zephyr

    Oh, I loved this book. The characters are all delineated so well that they stay in your mind for a long time. Skeeter of course is a sweetheart. But Aibileen, Constantine, Minnie and the other women whose stories she documents are all memorable characters too. Minnie, especially with the ‘awful thing’ she did to her employer stands out for her courage and spirit. At a time when not just racism but also sexism was rampant, going ahead and doing what Skeeter did speaks of extraordinary courage. Let me stop before this becomes a review and not a comment 🙂

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    1. Beat About The Book Post author

      Thank you for that heart-felt comment Zephyr. The whole purpose of this blog was to meet up with people who feel so strongly about books and characters that they can go on and on talking about them so you make it worth while my being here. Oh and I loved Minnie too. Loved her in the film. She has so mach sass.

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  2. Melody

    Like you already mentioned… i don’t know this writer nor book… but the storie seem very enlightning to me ….. i still believe that slavery is not know well enough to many people.. but also that there were ‘good’ slave-owners as ‘bad’ ones.

    Have a nice abc-day/- week
    ♫ M e l ☺ d y ♫ (abc.-w-team)

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    1. Beat About The Book Post author

      Hey melody as always it’s good to see you here. Yes there were ‘good’ slave owners like the O haras, yet slavery is not just about being treated well it is about losing one’s freedom, and that sometimes can be more precious.

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  3. readerwil

    I read “Gone with the Wind” and at the same time “Roots”. So I had an idea what the slaves had to endure. I also read a book about the friendship between a rich white girl and her slave maid, whom she got as a birthday present when she was 10 or 11.She too became a writer and against slavery..Thank you for this post.
    Wil, ABCW Team

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    1. Beat About The Book Post author

      Haven’t read Roots. Will look it up. That other book also sounds interesting. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. lesliebc

    I loved this book and could hardly wait to see if they gave it justice in the movie. They did. And I believe it’s a good book for students (especially girls) to study as a fine piece of literature. So much in it – history of the South, women’s roles and points of view in the 60s, racism, fashion, compare/contrast to today, etc. etc. Great post!

    Leslie
    abcw team

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  5. diwestwell

    I really enjoyed reading about Skeeter, she sounds a feisty young lady,
    Now I’m set to task to visit the local library and get a copy.
    I like her philosophy of’ ‘always buying banned books because if they’re banned by the State of Mississippi they must be good’…Brilliant !
    I just can’t wait to read ‘The Help’,
    Thanks for sharing this with us.
    Best wishes,
    Di,
    ABCW team.

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    1. Beat About The Book Post author

      Glad you liked it. I thought that was a great philosophy too. Banning books never does serve any purpose.

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    1. Beat About The Book Post author

      One of the few book adaptations that I did see is this one. It was a well made film.

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    1. Beat About The Book Post author

      The book is of the time when they’re almost treated like the furniture of the house – maybe worse. These days we’re more sensitive to them but the discrimination remains even though it is much milder.

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  6. Shilpa Garg

    Sounds like an interesting and an enlightening read. I liked the brief given by the editor. Have added in my TBR list. Thanks for sharing!

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  7. Priya

    Sounds very interesting OM .. thought provoking too.. Love the little snippets you’ve mentioned in the why you love her bit 🙂
    Hope you all have been doing well!

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  8. shanayatales

    Oh this sounds interesting. I remember seeing this, and then the movie came out (which I resisted watching as I wanted to read first), but then it just slipped through the cracks. Did you see the movie as well? How did you find the book to movie adaptation?

    Liked by 1 person

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