The Biggest Blunders Kathryn Stockett made

Posted on July 25, 2010

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From the novel, here’s where the author had some major mis-steps:

The Death of Medgar Evers         

Medgar Evers AP Worldwide photo

  http://www.biography.com/articles/Medgar-Evers-9542324

Not only does Stockett decide to move Medgar Evers’ death ahead of the Woolworth sit in that occurred on May 28, 1963 (Evers was shot on June 12, 1963 and his death is recounted on page 195 while the sit in is on page 219. Though it occurs at Brown’s Drug store, Minny’s description sounds close to the Woolworth photo shown below). Of Evers’ death, Skeeter says this:

They are scared, looking at the back door every ten minutes, afraid they’ll get caught talking to me. Afraid they’ll be beaten like Louvenia’s grandson, or, hell, bludgeoned in their front yard like Medgar Evers. (Pg 277)

Evers was shot in the back, and Stockett makes mention of his shooting on Pages 193 and 194 in the novel.

“KKK shot him. Front a his house. A hour ago.” Minny speaking to Aibileen Page 194

Yet Stockett repeats  that Medgar Evers was bludgeoned in two audio interviews listed here and here (and no one corrects her).

Excerpt:

http://covertocover.podbean.com/2009/04/26/kathryn-stockett-the-help/

 “…that summer Medgar Evers, who was the field secretary for the NAACP was bludgeoned to death on his front steps. His children actually came outside and were covered in blood and he died in the hospital that night.” (5:51 minutes into the 29 minute interview)

Excerpt:

http://media.barnesandnoble.com/?fr_story=59e76c8fa39941fb2ff1013f7928b8ed42d449c2&rf=rss

“…1963 was a horrifying and momentous year in Mississippi’s history as well as the entire United States. It was… the fall of 62 when James Meredith was accepted into Ole Miss and in 1963 Medgar Evers the uh…who was with the NAACP he was bludgeoned to death on his front yard in front of his children.”  (stated at 8:34 minutes into the 10:31 interview) 

 

***Updated***

Yes, there’s a third audio interview where Stockett again repeats that Evers was “bludgeoned”

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/speakingvolumes/2009/05/26/interview-with-kathryn-stockett

Excerpt:

 “. . .Shortly following Medgar Evers the field secretary for the NAACP was bludgeoned to death on his front steps,”

(4:21 minutes into the 18:31 interview)

From listening to these interviews it does sound like Stockett’s either reading from notes or trying to recall notes when she talks both times about the events in Mississippi in 1962 and 1963. Since she wrote about Evers’ shooting in the novel, why she’d state that he was bludgeoned is puzzling. 

Strike that thought. This is just too blatant an error to leave to erroneous notes. Sure, it could have been missed in the editing of the novel, but that doesn’t explain Stockett earnestly reciting that Evers was bludgeoned in two THREE different interviews which were conducted on separate dates. Something tells me someone else did the research, and Stockett added Evers death to the novel late in the process. That’s why it didn’t stick with her. It was something new to learn. But she had to have it in order to “sell” the novel, especially since the PR spin was how she had credibility just by being from Mississippi and developed a bond with a maid who’d worked for her grandparents during and after segregation ended.

 

 

**OT but it must be added to this post, because if proven true, this is a MAJOR blunder**

Ablene Cooper, a maid who currently works for Kathryn Stockett’s brother Robert has filed suit against the author.  Ms. Cooper is alleging that she is the real life inspiration for Aibileen Clark, the docile maid in the novel. Ms. Cooper is also alleging that the character of Aibileen Clark is not a positive portrayal (and I wholeheartedly agree) but more important, Kathryn Stockett did not have permission to use her name and likeness in the book. Ablene Cooper also previously baby-sat Stockett’s young daughter.

Ms. Cooper has a gold tooth and a deceased son, which is eerily close to the Aibileen Clark of the novel. The first name is too close of an association, as both names are pronounced the same way. While the case may not make it to trial, I’ve alluded to on this blog, that Stockett wrote as if she had limited contact with African Americans, especially as friends. Stockett has admitted to using not only Demetrie, her grandparents maid as the inspiration for the character of Aibileen, but also that the actress cast as Minny was someone she’d watched at a party. After being introduced to Stockett by the movie’s screenwriter, Tate Taylor, actress Octavia Spencer championed the novel and also won a part in the movie. The point is, the author has already admitted using real life associates for her characters. If an author has permission from that individual, then there’s no basis for a lawsuit.

For example, Octavia Spencer has to live with the fact that the character of Minny, warts and all is based on her. Years down the line Spencer can’t sue Stockett for defammation, since she was well aware of how the character would be portrayed (wonder what she now thinks of how idiotic the character sounds disparaging the civil rights movement because of a personality clash with Shirley Boon?)

This lawsuit may be another case of the author using a real individual as inspiration, but with one twist. The real Ablene Cooper claims she did not want to be in the book.

I also believe the character of Leroy is based on Demetrie’s abusive husband Clyde/Plunk. The name “Clyde” was also used as Aibileen’s estranged husband in the novel. Stockett mentioned Plunk/Clyde at the book’s end when recalling Demetrie.

**Updated**

Stockett was quoted as saying this in 2009:

 ” . . .I usually have my mind on a story– either mine or someone else’s– where the tomatoes are riper, the itches are itchier, the sun burns hotter than in regular life.”

Link – http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/New-Reads/HELLO-FROM-KATHRYN-STOCKETT-AUTHOR-OF-THE-HELP/td-p/335699

And this from the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

“When I was writing this book, I never thought anyone else would read it, so I didn’t get real creative with the names,” Stockett told us in 2009. “I just used people I knew. Some of them aren’t talking to me right now, but I feel like they’ll come around.”

She has repeatedly called the book, which has been adapted into a film, a work of fiction.

“I wrote it purely for me and finally had the guts to show it to my mother and my writing group, ” Stockett told us in the 2009 interview. “I was terrified when I realized it was going to be published.”

 Link: http://blogs.ajc.com/the-buzz/2011/02/18/kathryn-stockett-author-of-the-help-sued/

More information on the lawsuit can be found in this post: http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/stockett-being-sued/

 

 

Next is the sit-in that almost mirrors the actual Woolworth sit-in that the book has occuring after Ever’s death. Here’s a description of the sit-in:

Leroy eats, but his eyes are on the Jackson Journal next to his plate. He’s not exactly known for his sweet nature when he wakes up. I glance over from the stove and see the sit-in at Brown’s Drug Store is the front-page news. It’s not Shirley’s group, it’s people from Greenwood. A bunch of white teenagers stand behind the five protesters on their stools, jeering and jabbing, pouring ketchup and mustard and salt all over their heads. Pg 219 Minny and Leroy

Jackson Woolworth sit in. From left to right: John R. Salter, Jr. Joan Trumpauer, Anne Moody

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can read more on the historic account of the Jackson, Mississippi Woolworth sit-in here, with additional pictures from John R. Salter, who is Native American and now goes by the name of Hunter Gray Bear:

Excerpt:

“. . . This was the most violently attacked sit-in during the 1960s and is the most publicized. [Recently, many "end-of-the-Century" photo collections have carried large renditions of it.]   A huge mob gathered, with open police support and, while the three of us sat there for three hours, I was attacked with fists, brass knuckles and the broken portions of glass sugar containers,  and was burned with cigarettes.  I’m covered with blood and we were all covered by salt, sugar, mustard, and various other things.  Seated, left to right, are myself, Ms. Joan Trumpauer (now Mulholland), and Ms. Anne Moody.   Other sit-ins — some in a split-off section and some briefly with our heavily targeted part — were Mr. Memphis Norman (himself brutally struck and kicked unconscious), Ms. Pearlena Lewis, Ms. Lois Chaffee, Mr. James Beard, Mr. George Raymond, and Mr. Walter Williams.  Dr. A.D. Beittel, President of Tougaloo College, and  himself a much older man, joined us at the conclusion of the affair.”

http://www.hunterbear.org/Woolworth%20Sitin%20Jackson.htm

Addition photos with commentary are here:

http://www.hunterbear.org/woolworth2.htm

 

Where else did Stockett stumble?

Going on a book tour and reading the part of Minny in a cringe worthy pseudo “black” voice. 

Actually, neither Stockett or Octavia Spencer sound particularly comfortable: 

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/stockett-voices-minny/       

Stockett as Minny talks "cootchies"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll have another post going more into this next issue.

But the affection is one sided in this book, and also by Stockett. 

In her many interviews and even in the book’s acknowledgement pages, much like Skeeter talks about the affection Constantine showered on her, Stockett talks about how Demetrie cared for her. Yet neither Skeeter or Stockett talk as much about how much they loved their respective confidants and nurturing caretakers.

Aibileen and Mae Mobley’s mutual affection is well documented in the novel. But as far as the adults, only Lou Anne comes right out and publicly says what Louvenia means to her.

“Skeeter, Louvenia. . .” Lou Anne looks me in thethe eye, says, “she’s the only reason I can get out of bed sometimes.” (Pg 417) 

 Skeeter does blurt out “Mother she raised me!” when arguing with her mother (Charlotte Phelan) about Constantine’s dismissal.

 But more often than not, there are passages like these regarding Skeeter pouting over Constantine:

I had to accept that Constantine, my one true ally, had left me to fend for myself with these people (Pg 69)

. . . I just want to show that Constantine’s love for me began with missing her own child. Perhaps that’s what made it so unique, so deep. It didn’t matter that I was white. While she was wanting her own daughter back, I was longing for Mother not to be disappointed in me. (Pg 360)

Skeeter, for all her running about in hysterics over Constantine never admits how deeply she cared for the woman. Much of what she recalls has to do with what Constantine did for her, and not the other way around. More scenes were needed where Skeeter realized how much Constantine meant to her, and not just as a shoulder to cry on.

There are these passages in the first few pages:

That was the only part I didn’t like about having the top floor of the house, that it separated me from my Constantine. Pg 58

When we were kids, Mother told us she’d spank us if we went in Constantine’s bathroom. I miss Constantine more than anything I’ve ever missed in my life. (Pg 60)

The words in bold are the ones that stood out to me. When Skeeter uses “my” in relation to Constantine, its more as if the woman was a possession. And in the second example, when the word “anything” is used instead of “anyone” it denotes possession of a thing, and not a person. As I stated, I’ll have a post up that wonders where the pages went that show how much Skeeter loved and valued Constantine.

Where else did Stockett blunder in the novel?

 

In her depiction of the males:

There’s an overwhelming adoration for white males in The Help, so much so that they read as the real heroes in the book, even though Skeeter and Aibileen carry the bulk of the pages. But in actuality, far too many southern white males presented themselves as less than heroic during the early sixties. What Stockett leaves out is as important as what she includes in the book. There’s no mention of the Citizens Council, formerly called The White Citizens Council which was a very active and influencial organization not only in Jackson, Mississippi but around the country.

                  

Man being attacked

More info on the Citizens Council (with images of their pamphlet and recruitment ads, and  also scans of the Clarion-Ledger, the pro-segregation newspaperKathryn Stockett stated she used for “research”) can be found here:

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/the-real-housewives-of-jackson-mississippi/

Take a look at Carlton Phelan, Skeeter’s father. He works from sun up to apparently sun down, is bone tired and yet is still patient and loving when dealing with his now grown daughter’s insistence on answers about Constantine’s dismissal. And as Skeeter “tells” the reader, “he’s too honest of a man to hide things so I know he doesn’t have any more facts about it than I do.” (pg 82) Since he works all day and the running of the house is left to his wife, she may be right.

And yet, Charlotte Phelan comes across as a lovely, somewhat bigoted airhead. “You cannot leave a Negro and a Nigra together unchaperoned!” she tells a much younger Skeeter. “It’s not their fault, they just can’t help it.”  (Pg 70)

So how did this apparently liberal, gentle man end up with a wife whose views on race so differ from his own? We’ll never know, because the author neglects to reveal how it could have happened, or why Carlton can’t see it for himself (probably all those hours in the cotton fields oops! it’s called a plantation several times in the book).

Carlton Phelan senior even speaks his mind to Senator “Stoolie” Whitworth, regardless of  the fact that Skeeter has a chance at marrying the Senator’s son. His words from the novel:  “I’ve got twenty-five Negroes working my fields and if anyone so much as laid a hand on them, or any of their families…” and  “I’m ashamed…ashamed of what goes on in Mississippi.” (Pg 268)

After this rare admission from her father, ever the contradictory heroine Skeeter thinks: I am shocked to hear this opinion. Even more shocked that he’d voice it at this table to a politician. At home, newspapers are folded so the pictures face down, television channels are turned when the subject of race comes up. I’m suddenly so proud of my daddy, for many reasons. (Pg 268)

While Skeeter’s father comes across almost as good hearted as Atticus Finch, the other white males don’t fare badly either.

In order from the best to the worst, here’s my list:

Carlon Phelan Senior, Johnny Foote, Carlton Phelan Jr, Senator “Stoolie” Whitworth, William Holbrook, Raleigh Leefolt, Stuart Whitworth, the unknown, naked pervert.

Here’s what readers find out about some of these males:

Johnny Foote is Celia’s loyal, sensitive and madly in love husband. At one point in the book he breaks down and asks Minny if Celia is seeing another man. Even though Celia is described as white-trash, except for her too tight clothes and overly made up face, she sounds pretty normal. There’s no broad dialect for her, much like the other white females in the book. I do wonder how she survived without knowing how to cook, since she was too poor to have a maid growing up. Stockett never follows up on this point, however Johnny is so protective of his buxom blonde wife, when an admirer goes to far, Johnny quickly reins him in. Though Johnny never makes his view on race relations known, he has a cordial, if not friendly relationship with Minny.

Most of the white males in The Help read as almost liberal in their dealings with the black help. Even Raleigh Leefolt, in his firm talk with Aibileen about associating with Skeeter wasn’t too hard on her. And in the beginning of the novel, he was against building a separate bathroom. Sure, the monetary costs were one thing, but at least he didn’t tell Aibileen to go “make water” in the bushes where the dog went, which was something Saint Aibileen had one of the elderly black workers do. And when Raleigh caught Mae Mobley playing “back of the bus” with Lil’ Man (her younger brother) like any father would, he questioned her and decided to change her homeroom teacher.

This should play nicely in the theaters. And it should make today’s southerners feel really proud at how many closet liberals lived in their state during the 1960s. If only they’d come out of the closet so to speak, when all their buddies were blocking school integration and the voting rights of African Americans, maybe Medgar Evers would still be alive.

Stuart Whitworth. Well, this will be a thankless role in the film, so I suspect some changes will be made. Stuart is already conflicted when Skeeter meets him for their blind date, which is more of a character depiction than the other males get. Stuart also gets more page time, but he’s a bone head from right off. He’s drunk on their first date, and he insults Skeeter during their meal. Yet when he begs for forgiveness months later, Skeeter gives him another chance. Everything’s going swell until he finds out Skeeter’s not working on a book about Jesus. And just like that, he takes back the engagement ring he’d just given her. Their “engagement” has to be some sort of record for the quickest one to be broken. But it’s important to remember it’s all Hilly’s fault. Stuart was still hurting over his old girlfriend, and Hilly just wanted Skeeter and Stuart to get together to ensure her husband’s political future.

Photo of James Meredith being blocked from entering Ole Miss

In examining the African American males in the book, the one who fares the best is already dead by the time the novel begins. Treelore (gotta love that name) Clark, Aibileen’s son. The maid tells the reader right at the beginning how smart he was, how he had a steady girlfriend (thank god Stockett didn’t depict him as “no account” also). It was Treelore’s idea to write a book on a black man’s experience working for a white employer, which is what Skeeter used to write the book on the maids. It also landed her the job of her dreams, so for that Treelore is owed many thanks. Another reason why I list him as number one, is because his death was never truly mourned in the book. Sure, Aibileen fights back tears and tells the reader she was despondent enough to plan suicide, but the author never gives me a real sense of Aibileen’s pain. Not as much as the joy Aibileen feels once Skeeter escapes Jackson, Mississippi. Only then do Aibileen’s tears fall like rain. So to Treelore, I give the honor of being the most positive African American male in the novel.

In order from the best to the worst:

Treelore Clark, Reverend Johnson, Robert, Connor, Clyde Clark, Minny’s father, Leroy Jackson

Reverend Johnson is up next. He does all the things a reverend is supposed to do, like basically nothing. He’s a neutral character, speaking a few lines about going to the March on Washington and finally helping out Yule May with her sons college education (maybe he should have talked her into sending them to a public university or community college instead of a private school). His biggest role seems to be making sure Skeeter gets a gift on behalf of the church congregation and letting her know she’s now an honorary black woman, something I don’t believe even he has the power to grant.

Robert, Louvenia’s grandson, would have come in second. Except for my hunch that for a black man living in the south, it would be foolish NOT to know if a bathroom isn’t labeled, then you shouldn’t use it. The whole Robert used the bathroom meant for whites had too many holes, especially since Robert seemed to have manners and sense, and yet he makes a life threatening error like this, having lived all his life in Jackson AND owning his own lawn maintenance business. It would seem a young man with those kind of smarts already knows how to navigate through the treacherous waters of racial strife. And in light of all the violence already happening in the southern states, I’d think Robert would have been more cautious than usual.

Now we come to the “no-accounts” and the “fool”

Connor, Constantine’s lover ran off and left her. The only thing additional known about him is that Aibileen states “he was dark as me.”

Clyde Clark, Aibileen’s husband she so fondly calls “Crisco” because he’s about the “greasiest no account” male, is next. He’s a player, since he ran off with another woman and when Aibileen does think of him, she talks about his smile. But he left her to raise their son alone. Which leaves him wanting as a man.

Leroy Jackson, Minny’s husband is last. Leroy drinks too much, apparently works too little, and abuses Minny. He’s a fool, as Aibileen describes him, yet Minny in one section says “He’s no fool. He knows if I’m dead, that paycheck won’t be showing up on its own” (pg 130). I think I’ll side with Aibileen on this one, since Minny’s mentality is questionable throughout the novel. He’ s also a babymaker, as he and Minny have five children when the novel starts and a sixth on the way as the novel ends. Yet he has no problem beating her in full view of their children and while she carries their sixth child. He’s also very stupid, telling Minny “You don’t get tired. Not till the tenth month” (Pg 406) I don’t think this is a typo. If it should have said ninth month, I’m pretty sure the author would’ve mentioned it in her interviews on the novel. No, this was intentional, because Leroy has a few other stupid things to say and do in the novel.

Which goes back to the title of this post. Because I feel this was one of the biggest blunders the author and her publisher made (since the author stated in an interview that her publisher, who was also her editor, tirelessly edited page after page, which leads me to believe both of them had to see this)

The white males are upgraded and the black males are downgraded. And this was when many white males publicly stated their allegiance with the KKK and their segregationist beliefs, while black males risked their lives for equality, education and a better life for their family.

       

Stockett seems to have forgotten the white pride marches and the riot at Ole Miss held by whites (in which a French reporter died). Ole Miss is Skeeter’s Alma Mater:

Riot at Ole Miss by whites opposed to integration

    

In addition, the white males who inhabit Stockett’s fictional view of Jackson are hard working, they all love and are loyal to their wives, and while many can’t hold their liquor, they’re never disrespectful, in the sense that they never verbally or physically abuse their wives. Apparently once white southerners marry, they also don’t stray either. These are “dream” males, who allow themselves to be led by their wives, and have nothing to do with the racial uprising  in their city, because through Stockett’s eyes, they should not be maligned. It’s the black male who is not their equal.

I AM A MAN

 

I AM A MAN

 

 That Kathryn Stockett decided, in taking on the persona of a black female, it was well within her artistic right to pass judgment on the black male while sparing white males is not only highly hypocritical, but wipes out any notion, at least in my mind that this book was a “homage” to her former maid.  As Stockett, in the guise of Minny states:  Plenty a black men leave their families behind like trash in a dump. but it’s just not something the colored woman do. We got the kids to think about. (Pg 311)

THIS is what far too many black men were going through in the south, contrary to Stockett’s viewpoint on the relationships of African American males and females in the 1960s:

As I continue to create this post, I have to give props to commentors on Amazon.com, many of whom state things more eloquently and articulately than I ever could. Here’s one from Leonore Rodrigues, which is more than fitting in summing all this up:

“…much of the defense of Stockett’s lack of research revolves around the idea that “it’s just fiction.” I don’t understand this. What underlies that argument is the premise that fiction writers can do whatever they want: they can take liberties with actual events; they can twist the basic personalities of their characters just to suit the needs of one scene, then switch the personality back when it’s convenient for the plot; they can completely gloss over real-life messiness because they don’t want to deal with it, but then claim to be writing an expose set in an era of violent social upheaval.
I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it. Fiction writers DO have a responsibility, at least if they want to write GOOD fiction. In order for an author to ‘get it right’ and create good, lasting literature, there needs to be truth at the center of the story. Who can tell what the truth is here when it’s so diluted, distorted, and inconsistent? How could Stockett be a reliable arbiter of the truth of this story when we can’t trust her to even take the time to research voices, events, or real-life consequences?”
 
 
 
The next blunder, relegating the “Help” to the kitchen
 
In Stockett’s Jackson, Mississippi the domestics seemingly care nothing about the growing civil rights movement going on in their own city. In Minny Jackson, Stockett crafted a crass woman only interested in making crude jokes about others and her own culture’s attempts at peaceful sits-ins. Here’s dialogue the author has Minny stating:

“I told Shirley Boon her ass won’t fit on no stool at Woolworth’s anyway.” Minny speaking of a person holding a community meeting concerning the Woolworth sit-ins (Pg 217)

And I know there are plenty of other “colored” things I could do besides telling my stories or going to Shirley Boon’s meetings-the mass meetings in town, the marches in Birmingham, the voting rallies upstate. But truth is, I don’t care that much about voting. I don’t care about eating at a counter with white people. What I care about is, if in ten years, a white lady will call my girls dirty and accuse them of stealing silver. Minny (Pg 218)

And why does Stockett have Minny making such stupid statements? Because for whatever reason, Minny apparently can’t hold her tongue when dealing with a character named Shirley Boone. But there’s also another reason. Stockett sets up the maids stories to appear as great or of greater importance than the civil unrest that actually went on in Jackson. Thus Minny distances herself from the community meetings in order to keep her appointments with Skeeter. But there was no need to disparage the very real civil rights activities to do so.
 
By confining Aibileen and Minny to their respective “kitchens” and also a singular church, Stockett’s 1960s Jackson is almost idyllic in its lack of racial problems. Hence the only character in danger is Skeeter, since she  has to worry about being stopped going to or from Aibileen’s house. However even then there’s no real danger, it’s only implied and never materializes.
This is done so that Aibileen and Minny are free to remain the “happy” domestics, socially unaware of what’s going on in their own community, but also free from harm since all the attention must now be on Skeeter and the risks she faces in meeting with the maids.
Maybe if Stockett hadn’t gotten greedy with the premise it might have worked. By beefing up Skeeter’s supposed heroics and making Aibileen and Minny seem as if they don’t care about their own civil rights (but they do care about talking about how it feels to work for whites in Jackson) what they’re doing doesn’t read as admirable. It reads as taking the easy way out when others, young and old, white and black were laying their very lives on the line.
After a bit of research, I found out that the SNCC was instrumental in bringing protestors from out of state and also mobilizing Jackson’s youth from the area’s black high schools and colleges to invigorate the civl rights movement.

Students in 1960 DC marching for equality

 

When Youth Protest: The Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, 1955-1970

By Dernoral Davis

Throughout the late spring and summer of 1961, teams of Freedom Riders continued to pour into Jackson. Local students immediately embraced the Freedom Riders and became participants in the escalating protest. Protesting Jackson students, like many of the Freedom Riders, were arrested. Most of the youths arrested were secondary school students from the three all-black high schools – Lanier, Brinkley, and Jim Hill.

Jackson-area students had given indication of their willingness to engage in civil rights protests even before the coming of the Freedom Riders. In 1960, students at Campbell College, led by student body president Charles Jones, organized an Easter boycott of Jackson’s Capitol Street white businesses. Jones gave as the reason for the boycott “Blacks’ unwillingness to exist as people not yet free.” In the boycott efforts, Campbell College students were supported by their counterparts at Jackson College and Tougaloo College. Interpretations differ as to the success of the boycott — Jones maintained his group’s efforts were successful while the white merchants reported the boycott a dismal failure.

The other student protest prior to the Freedom Rides was a read-in at the Jackson Municipal Library by nine Tougaloo College students. On March 27, 1961, the Tougaloo Nine, four females and five males, entered the segregated main branch of the municipal library in search of source material for a class assignment. When the students took seats and began reading, a library staff member called the police. After refusing orders by the police chief to leave the library, the Tougaloo Nine were arrested. The read-in drew support from students at Jackson and Tougaloo colleges as well as Millsaps, a predominantly white college in Jackson. The Tougaloo Nine were charged and convicted of breach-of-peace. Each of them was fined $100 and given a 30-day suspended sentence.

The arrival of the Freedom Riders catapulted Jackson into the national limelight in ways the city’s fathers had hoped to avoid. Moreover, in the aftermath of the Freedom Rides, CORE and SNCC quickly expanded in the state, ending the NAACP’s longstanding monopoly on civil rights activism. As CORE and SNCC formally moved into the state — Tom Gaithers and Robert (Bob) Moses, their respective field secretaries — the recruitment of young activists became a primary objective.

…Over the next three years, from 1962 to 1965, COFO (Council of Federated Organizations) either led the coordination of or assisted in civil rights-sponsored activism across Mississippi. As the umbrella organization, COFO was expected to represent and promote the interests of all national, state, and local civil rights groups operating in Mississippi. COFO often included youth mobilization for protest and agitation. Civil rights organizations operating as part of COFO led a large number of sit-ins, protest marches, and boycotts along with voter education, registration, and canvassing drives. These organizing efforts were evident throughout the state from Holly Springs and Marshall County in north Mississippi, to Hattiesburg in Forrest County in the southern tier of the state.

 
That this crucial information was left out of the novel, so as to appear as though Jackson, Mississippi had no turmoil and existed in its own bubble of denial regarding civil rights is surprising. It also strengthens Leonore’s assertions of liberties taken regardless of the truth. All the characters in The Help go about their daily lives, oblivious to changes occurring within their own city because the author has neglected to include these events. While the white females like Elizabeth Leefolt and even Celia may have been able to get away with not noticing the influx of new visitors and the mass grouping of Jackson’s own black youths, their husbands, and especially Senator Stoolie Whitworth would have been caught up in events.
 
But the greatest travesty of all is having the maids not only ignorant about the growing unrest, but speaking ill of the attempts at sit-ins by college students who risked their  young lives for people like Minny and Aibileen. That Stockett decided their efforts should be met with derision says much about her lack of understanding of the times.
 
 
Where else did Stockett blunder? In her depiction of the African American culture, from our skin tones to how she viewed the relationships African American women have with the African American Male.
 
Skeeter says this about her beloved Constantine:

It was having someone look at you after your mother has nearly fretted herself to death because you are freakishly tall and frizzy and odd.  Someone whose eyes simply said, without words, You are fine with me. (Pg 65)

And then proceeds to describe just about every black person she sees as either “black as night” (Pascagoula), “black like asphalt” (Pg 257), “So black I couldn’t tell them apart” (Mary and Mary, Pg 62 – Okay, she was a lot younger then, but Skeeter’s just warming up with the overshare). “Her skin is blacker than Aibileen’s by ten shades” (164, skeeter describing Minny). Even her beloved Constantine doesn’t escape the “how many ways can I call a black person black” mindset.

Her elbows were absolutely black, with a dry white dust on them in the winter. The skin on her arms and neck and face was dark ebony. The palms of her hands were orangey-tan and that made me wonder if the soles on her feet were too, but I never saw her barefootted. (Pg 65) Skeeter describing Constantine

Stockett says this at the end of the book:

“In the Help there is one line that I truly prize: ‘ 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’d thought.’ ”  Kathryn Stockett, repeating a line from her novel on page 451.

If this is what the author truly believes, then why would she craft a novel that does everything to show how different we are, white and black, and that somehow, African Americans are an “other.” A race that in looks and behavior she still doesn’t fully get.

Here are the other things Stockett describes as “black” in the novel:

She’s back at the sink, stretching a black rubber hose from the faucet to the dishwasher. (Pg 245)

I slip into the black dress with the deep V neck in the front, the black Delman flats (Pg 116)

At five forty-five, a black thing streaks out in front if me and I feel a thunk…Remarkably the cat stands up, looks around stunned, and shoots back into the woods as quickly as it came. (Pg 116)

So are the African American characters in the book just “things” or people?

I want to ask the author why she wrote about African Americans as if our skin color is something foreign, almost alien in her eyes, and as if African Americans who speak with a southern accent are uneducated and slow of mind as well as speech. And if she doesn’t “see” any beauty in the black culture to write about, then how can she expect her readers to?

But most of all, I’d like to know why she resurrected stereotypes of a people who already have more than enough images throughout history that mock us.

Stockett’s comfort level with African Americans, at least what I get from this novel and in reviewing her interviews, is only when the black character’s situation is “humorous”, or when she writes that the character is in nurturing mode or crying tears for the white characters. Aibileen is only allowed to show true emotion over Skeeter, and at the end of the novel, when leaving Mae Mobley and Ross.

I’ve got a suggestion for Stockett as she crafts her next book. Don’t assign “black” parts and “white” parts on the outset. Your writing may be the better for it.  In The Help, white characters are given “white” attributes and the black characters are given “black” attributes.

Black characters do things like crack jokes and laugh and talk about people, even in a house of worship. This is a common stereotype on what black people do. Everything’s funny. Black people are so funny. Not.

Whites on the other hand in this novel, can’t do a damn thing for themselves, get flustered over the little things easily, and can’t seem to recognize when one of their own (Hilly) has a power complex. Yet just about every white male is liberal, loving, and legitimately married to his wife. They are a strong family unit, something that was sorely lacking in the depiction of the African American characters.

Another blunder was in the depiction of the children.

Most, if not all of the children of the employers are well behaved. Inexplicably, Stockett segregates the children behavior wise, with Kindra, Minny’s daughter labeled as a handful. More on the unequal treatment of the book’s characters can be found here:

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/separate-but-unequal/

Taking in consideration the author was born in 1969, it would seem imperative that research be done to reflect not only the time period the book was set in, but that the depiction of the men, women and children who toiled under segregation respect their sacrifices. Maybe if the author had attempted to learn and fully appreciate the black culture she decided to write about, she wouldn’t have had to concede this:

“I guess when I felt like I was having a conversation with Demetrie, but, Michele, I didn’t get it all right. I took liberties that made me feel like I was telling the story in the way it should be told, but I never considered when I was writing how it was going to make other people feel.” http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=120966815

It has nothing to do with how “people feel” it has to do with a fair depiction. An accurate portrayal of a culture as humanly possible, especially during the early 1960s, when bravery came from even the littlest members of a people targeted simply because of their skin color. That’s what Stockett failed to grasp when writing this novel.  That many African Americans had loving, long lasting marriages, studied hard in school to get good grades, went to church to worship GOD and not talk about people, and respected the black male for what he put up with on a daily basis.

For being called “boy” and still acting like a man.

For finding work, even if  it meant leaving the South to seek it.

To be willing to lay their own lives on the line. For the dream of equality. 

 

I think Medgar Evers said it best:

“Freedom has never been free . . . I love my children and I love my wife with all my heart. And I would die, and die gladly, if that would make a better life for them.”  Evers was shot and killed a few days later.

Additional mis-steps in the novel:

The character of Lulabelle Bates, the daughter of bi-racial Constantine is called both pale and “high yellow.” High Yellow is not the same as light enough to pass for white.

The ability to pass for white is simply that. The person’s appearance (skin color, hair, features) closely resembles Caucasian, even though they are of black and white heritage. A few examples:

Fredi Washington, African American actress

Louise Beavers and Fredi Washington in the film "Imitation of Life"

Fredi Washington was an African American actress. She had green eyes, was fair skinned and had straight hair. Ironically, she played “Peola” in the original version of “Imitation of Life”. The role of Peola was her biggest claim to movie fame, and the part was about a bi-racial young woman who decides to pass for white. Louis Beavers was cast in the role of her mother.

Actress Fredi Washington

A few other examples : Jennifer Beals from Flashdance. Wentworth Miller from “The Human Stain” and the TV series “Prisonbreak”. There’s also actor Vin Deisel and Jessica Szohr of “Gossip Girl”.

Jennifer Beals, African American actress

It’s important to note that these individuals readily identify themselves as having a white and black parent, just as other bi-racial celebrities do. I don’t like to use the term “High Yellow” since it’s considered derogatory. It also was a tool during segregation to rank the intelligence and attractiveness of African Americans, and some believe its still being used to this day. But “High Yellow” doesn’t mean you can pass for white. The term denotes that the individual is bright yellow, as in their skin tone is close to the color yellow. I don’t think there’s any need to post examples.

Actor Vin Diesel

Wentworth Miller from Resident Evil: Afterlife

Jessica Szohr of Gossip Girl

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
The Abuse storyline
 
Minny is bossy and bold, and she even has the courage (or sheer stupidity in my opinion) to confront a naked pervert outside Celia Foote’s home. Yet as confident as she acts, there’s one man who terrifies her. And there’s one woman who knows her suffering. Her good friend Aibileen.
 
Minny is being abused by her husband Leroy. And while Aibileen can offer positive affirmations to Mae Mobley and also take great pride in the white children she’s raised, there’s no scene where she either offers similar affirmations to Minny, or even interacts with the children of her best friend, all the while knowing they frequently witness their father’s violence. Only once in the novel does Aibileen offer to house Minny and her kids when Leroy is raging.
Aibileen also takes great care to put people on her “prayer” list. At the head of that list is Mae Mobley, and Fanny Lou, a member of her church, then she includes her own sisters Inez and Mable who apparently have 18 kids between the both of them and 6 of them are sick with the flu, and she adds someone she calls “That stinky old white fella that live behind the feed store, the one lost his mind from drinking the shoe polish.”
 
 
But not Minny. And not Leroy. Here’s what she jokingly says in conversation with Aibileen, after calling Leroy a fool in an earlier chapter: “Leroy…tell him I said he better behave. Or I put him on my prayer list.” Pg 127
 
 
The author has Aibileen rationalizing things this way when Aibileen and Minny converse on page 310 regarding Minny’s latest bruise from Leroy.
 
“So what you gone do about it?” Aibileen asks, and I know she means the eye.
We don’t talk about me leaving Leroy. Plenty of black men leave their families behind like trash in a dump, but it’s just not something the colored woman do. We’ve got the kids to think about….
“Lot’s a folks think if you talk back to your husband, you crossed the line and that justifies punishment. You believe in that line?”
I scowl down at the table. “You know I ain’t studying no line like that.”
“Cause the line ain’t there. Except in Leroy’s head. Lines between blank and white ain’t there neither. Some folks just made those up, long time ago. And that go for the white trash and the so-ciety ladies too.”
 
 
This whole exchange skirts around the issue. Instead of two friends speaking openly (if Minny’s reputation for speaking so bluntly was ever needed, now was the time) they play on terms, until Minny inexplicably comes up with this solution:
“You and the kids want to come stay with me?” Aibileen asks.
“No,I want him to see me” Minny says. “See what he done to his wife.”
Aibileen tells her to call if he gets rough.
And Minny responds: “I don’t need no phone. You’ll hear him screaming for mercy all the way over here.” Pg 313
 
 
The next time Leroy’s abuse comes up, Aibileen is observing Minny’s frantic household:

As usual, Minny’s house be like a chicken coop on fire. Minny be hollering, things be flinging around, all the kids squawking. I see the first hint a Minny’s belly under her dress and I’m grateful she finally showing. Leroy, he don’t hit Minny when she pregnant. And Minny know this so I spec they’s gone be a lot more babies after this one. Page 396 

Until finally, after Leroy loses his job after Minny’s part in the making of Help is revealed:
 
“Is you okay? You hurt?” Aibileen asks her.
“I can’t take this no more, Aibileen. I can’t do this-” Minny breaks down, crying into the phone.
And Aibileen thinks:
It’s the first time I ever heard Minny say that. I take a deep breath, knowing what I need to do. The words is clear in my head and right now is my only chance for her to really hear me…” (Pg 439)
 
 
 
I doubt if that’s the only time Minny would have heard her, since Minny’s been getting her butt kicked all throughout the novel. At some point even Aibileen has a “fight or flight” moment by wanting to flee herself, though she’s not the one taking the abuse.
 
We make it out the door and down the street fore we hear Leroy hollering at Benny for waking him up. I walk faster so she don’t go back and give Leroy what he good for. (Pg 397)
 
 
The abuse that Minny suffers on an almost daily basis should not be ignored and neither should Saint Aibileen’s goofy indifference to it.
 
 
But by sticking with the stereotype of Minny as the bossy domestic, unfortunately it’s been overlooked.
 
  
 
And that’s troubling.
 
Especially with the data that’s available in this day and age showing that women who suffer from such abuse experience depression, social isolation, are at risk of suicide, substance abuse, and yet the novel continues on as if none of this bothers Minny. On the contrary, the character actually becomes more aggressive.
Somehow the character decides to risk her own life in order to protect Celia. In addition, she smacks her daughter Sugar, when the girl dares to gossip about Celia. So the author has a character who’s a battered wife either promising violence (Pg 313)  or inflicting it, which is highly contradictory.
I’m going to repost a reply I made to a commentor on this blog about Minny protecting Celia and on the vernacular of the black characters:

First, it’s important to remember that Minny’s an abused woman. Unfortunately, because she’s also portrayed as the bossy maid, this stereotype seems to have overrided what we now know about battered women.

Most women who’ve been abused are under the control of another. In Minny’s case, its Leroy. Somehow this character becomes more aggressive as the novel goes on, and rarely experiences the depression, isolation, and outright fear that other women do who are in a relationship where an intimate partner is violent.
I have a hard time believing this character would go into protect mode, especially when she’s unable to summon it for not only for herself, but for her kids.
You see, her kids are also victims, since they witness Leroy’s abuse.

By created Minny with a “bossy” maid persona, the abuse issue has been pushed to the side, and all modern data on it overlooked. This is a major blunder in my opinion.
An addtional point:
On education and African Americans. The south has been the home of a fair number of colleges and universities founded for African Americans since the Civil War, many of which still stand.
http://www.eduinconline.com/HBCUs.html

During the 50s and 60s, and even the 70s, African Americans from all over the country sought higher education.

What was fought for in 1954 was that the schools, including the colleges be integrated. The South was the home of many college graduates of African American heritage, and many of them, from Martin Luther King Jr, to Anne Moody and Hellen Jean O’Neil-McCray graduated from a historically black college. More info on these women can be found in this blog post:
http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/10/10/song-of-the-south/

It’s important to separate fact from fiction. African Americans, not just those of the South were as diverse in education as they were in employment. Black doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors and others proudly called the south their home. But back during segregation, African Americans were bombarded by images of culture, some of which remain today like Aunt Jemina and Uncle Ben, that either mocked the dialect or the physical form. The creators of these stereotypes were usually white writers. These demeaning characters were not limited to African Americans though. Native Americans as well as Asians had to endure caracatures, which usually shared the similarities of broken english and exaggerated features. Imho The Help merely perpetuates those stereotypes, with the dialect of Aibileen and Minny, as well as other black characters straight out of an episode of Amos and Andy.

It’s also of interest to note that the author has had misgivings about her portrayals, stating this:
“I guess when I felt like I was having a conversation with Demetrie, but, Michele, I didn’t get it all right. I took liberties that made me feel like I was telling the story in the way it should be told, but I never considered when I was writing how it was going to make other people feel.”
http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=120966815

And this:

“At first, I wasn’t nervous writing in the voice of Aibileen and Minny because I didn’t think anybody would ever read the story except me. I wrote it because I wanted to go back to that place with Demetrie. I wanted to hear her voice again.
But when other people started reading it, I was very worried about what I’d written and the line I’d crossed. And the truth is, I’m still nervous. I’ll never know what it really felt like to be in the shoes of those black women who worked in the white homes of the South during the 1960s and I hope that no one thinks I presume to know that. But I had to try. I wanted the story to be told. I hope I got some of it right.”
http://us.penguingroup.com/static/rguides/us/help.html


And This:

WOW: Oh, how interesting. How bold of you to write in the voice of a black woman.
KATHRYN: Oh, it’s not that bold if you think no one’s going to read it.
WOW: OK, so you’re writing this privately; you’re feeling this – your story – is only for yourself?
KATHRYN: Oh, yes.
http://www.wowowow.com/culture/help-author-kathryn-stockett-interview-talks-joni-evans-461686?page=0%2C0

 
 
 
Did Skeeter truly have to act alone?
 
Even though Jackson, Mississippi was in the eye of the storm during the heyday of civil rights, in the novel, its as if Skeeter is forced to act alone, that there are no other whites who may be able to assist her. But there are some very real examples of women who publicly came out in either support of civil rights, or to denounce the tactics of segregationists.
 
One was Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, a resident of Virginia who came to Mississippi to attend Tougaloo college.  

Joan Trumpauer Mulholland

 
 
You can read more about Joan Trumpauer Mulholland here (note that there’s mention of forced vaginal examinations):
 
 
 
 
 
Another is newspaper journalist and owner Hazel Brannon Smith, who ended up winning a Pulitzer Prize for her articles. Brannon Smith grew up in a household that believed in segregation, yet she ended up being branded an integrationist.
 
 
You can view her story here: 

http://mshistory.k12.ms.us/articles/283/hazel-brannon-smith-pulitzer-prize-winning-journalist

Hazel Brannon Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To be continued. . . 

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