The Mis-Education of Yule May Crookle

Posted on November 12, 2010

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That’s right, her last name is Crookle.  As in the only way to keep the characters straight, the author needed to identify this one based on how she’ll wind up in the novel. As a crook.

Aunjanue Ellis plays Yule May in the movie

Or more accurately, a thief. In the movie Yule May’s last name has been completely changed and her first name is spelled differently. She’s now Yule Mae Davis, something that should have been done before the book was shipped off to the very first agent. There’s no way this last name wasn’t supposed to be some type of forewarning regarding the character’s storyline, and also that it was an inside joke. But it was another “joke” at the expense of a black character.

The first time the reader is introduced to Yule May, she’s busy preparing food with another maid for one of Hilly’s football parties on Page 87. Skeeter notices that Hilly’s tall, thin maid, Yule May, is folding dough around tiny sausages. Another colored girl, younger, washes dishes at the sink.

A little further on in the scene, Skeeter thinks I watch Yule May’s long fingers pinch the dough off a knife

The next time Yule May appears  it’s when Aibileen wants to ask her about telling her story to Skeeter, but before that Aibileen had this to say about her fellow parishoner:

Yule May. Miss Hilly’s maid, setting in front a me. Yule May easy to recognize from the back cause she got such good hair, smooth, no nap to it. I hear she educated, went through most a college. Course we got plenty a smart people in our church with they college degrees. Doctors, lawyers, Mr. Cross who own The Southern Times, the colored newspaper that come out ever week. But Yule May, she probably the  most educated maid we got in our parish.  

Aibileen is the narrator in this scene from page 210:

Yule May nod at me, smile polite. She about forty and tall and thin. She done kept her figure nice. She still wearing her uniform and it fit trim on her waist. She always wear earrings, tiny gold hoops.

“I hear the twins is going to Tougaloo College next year. Congratulations.”

“We hope so. We’re still got a little more to save. Two at once’s a lot.”

“You went to a good bit a college yourself, didn’t you?”

She nod, say, “Jackson College.”

“I loved school. The reading and the writing. Cept the rithmatic. I didn’t take to that.”

Yule May smiles. “The English was my favorite too. The writing.”

“I been. . . writing some myself.”

Yule May look me in the eye and I can tell then she know what I’m about to say. For a second, I can see the shame she swallow ever day, working in that house. The fear. I feel embarrassed to ask her.

But Yule May say it before I have to. “I know about the stories you’re working on. With that friend of Miss Hilly’s.”

“It’s alright, Yule May. I know you can’t do it.”

“It’s just. . . a risk I can’t afford to take right now. We so close to getting enough money together. “

I’m going to stop the scene right here. Because this is where the author makes a crucial error with this character. Note Yule May says “It’s just… a risk I can’t afford to take right now. We so close to getting enough money together.”

So what happened? Why would Yule May next decide it was worth the risk to steal?

Going back to the scene, another thing jumps out. It’s how Yule May and Aibileen, though they attend the same house of worship, barely know each other.

“I understand,” I say and I smile, let her know she off the hook. But Yule May don’t move away.

“The names. . . .you’re changing them, I heard?”

This is the same question everybody ask, cause they curious.

“That’s right, And the name a the town too.”

She look down at the floor. “So I’d tell my stories about being a maid and she’d write them down? Edit them or. . . something like that?”

I nod. “We want a do all kind a stories. Good things and bad. She working with . . .another maid right now. “

Yule May lick her lips, look like she imagining it, telling what it’s like to work for Miss Hilly.

“Could we. . . talk about this some more? When I have more time?”

“A course,” I say, and I see, in her eyes, she ain’t just being nice.

“I’m sorry, but Henry and the boys are waiting for me, ” she says. “But may I call you? And talk in private?”

“Anytime. Whenever you feel like it.”

She touch my arm and look me straight in the eyes again. I can’t believe what I see. It’s like she been waiting on me to ask her all this time.

Then she gone out the door. I stand in the corner a minute, drinking coffee too hot for the weather. I laugh and mutter to myself, even though everbody done think I’m even crazier for it.

Yule May only returns in the form of a confession of sorts, a letter she somehow feels must go to Skeeter (nevermind that she’s never officially met or said two sentences to Skeeter, and that she doesn’t really know if Skeeter has the same attitude toward blacks as Hilly)

This is what Yule May writes to Skeeter. My comments are in bold:

Dear Miss Skeeter

I want you to know how sorry I am that I won’t be able to help you with your stories. But now I can’t and I want to be the one to tell you why.

(Like most of the black characters  do in the novel, only the white women are called “Miss”.  And it seems for most of them, Skeeter’s stories have gained more importance than the struggle for civil rights that’s quickly reaching the boiling point in Jackson)

As you know, I used to wait on a friend of yours. I didn’t like working for her and I wanted to quit many times but I was afraid to. I was afraid I might never get another job once she’d had her say.

(The backstory with Yule May was that she’s had a couple of years of college, and that both she and her husband had jobs. That she’d believe the only occupation open to her was as a domestic once again shows Stockett’s unequal and frankly, insulting handling of the African American characters. And for Yule May to admit in the letter that she didn’t like working for Hilly, yet still ask the woman for a loan which would make her even more indebted to someone she disliked makes no sense in terms of character development)

You probably don’t know that after I finished high school, I went on to college. I would’ve graduated except I decided to get married. It’s one of my few regrets in life, not getting my college degree. I have twin boys that make it all worthwhile, though. For ten years my husband and I have saved our money to send them to Tougaloo College, but as hard as we worked, we still didn’t have enough for both. My boys are equally as smart, equally eager for education. But we only had the money for one and I ask you, how do you choose which of your twin sons should go to college and which should take a job spreading tar? How do you tell one that you love him just as much as the other, but you’ve decided he won’t be the one to get a chance at life? You don’t. You find a way to make it happen. Any way at all.

(Now, this whole passage reads as too much information, and for the character’s need to reveal so much to Skeeter, a woman she barely knows  also doesn’t make sense. What’s so magical about Skeeter that all things need to be confessed and cleared through her? I hate to say it, but Skeeter’s character has become a Mary Sue. Things just fall into place for her, without the character really learning or growing by it. The only thing Yule May’s letter shows is how misguided her thinking was. Tougaloo is a private college, and if higher education was the goal, then there were other colleges, even community colleges Yule May’s boys could have attended. However, like most of the mis-steps taken by a black character in the book, it’s never fully explained. But then,  Yule May, like most of the black characters are there to advance a plot that revolves around Skeeter, not their own). The letter ends with:

I suppose you look at this as a confession letter. I stole from that woman. An ugly ruby ring, hoping it would cover the rest of the tuition.

Something she never wore and I felt she owed me for everything I’d been through working for her. Of course  now, neither of my boys will be going to college, The court fine is nearly as much as we had saved.

Sincerely,

Yule May Crookle

Women’s Block 9

Mississippi State Penitentiary

 

As the book continues, Skeeter corners Pascagoula (seems Yule May has a couple of cousins in this book, from the timid Pascagoula to the outspoken Gretchen) wanting to know about Yule May’s sentence. Even though Yule May has a good lawyer, and a white one at that, based on Hilly’s word and close association with the judge’s wife (yes, this twenty-four year old woman is somehow in good with everyone who’s anyone in Jackson) the punishment of six months for petty stealing is bumped to four years. I guess Yule May must have had a prior conviction where probation was out of the question, and even though major civil rights organizations were headquartered in Mississippi,  there was just no other way to help Yule May.

And Mary Sue, I mean Skeeter thinks I knock on Aibileen’s door,  feel a rush of shame. I shouldn’t be thinking about my own problems when Yule May is in jail, but I know what this means for the book. If the maids were afraid to help up yesterday, I’m sure they’re terrified today.

Not to worry though. Yule May was only short seventy-five dollars for her son’s tuition and the black churches get together, deciding to send both boys to college (and I have to say, after saving for ten years, what was she trying to do? Pay for their full four years of college? And did she not know about scholarships? Or did Stockett not realize this was a big old plot hole in the sad tale of Yule May and why she decided the only option she had was to become a thief?)

At least Skeeter does ask if there’s anything she can do.

Aibileen gives her a convenient out by saying “No. Church already set up a plan to pay the lawyer. To keep him on for when she come up for parole.”

PAROLE? Has anyone in this group ever heard of filing an appeal?

But Aibileen also tells her the court gave Yule May a five hundred dollar fine, which is something Skeeter could help out with, but it’s never mentioned again.

No, the attention next turns to Skeeter, and helping her with the novel, as if Yule May’s jail sentence needs to just fade away and helping Skeeter (just like Minny protecting Celia and Aibileen giving Mae Mobley positive affirmations each day will make everything right and good and just in the world). These are the twists in the novel that take it from a serious contender to sloppy soap opera. At every turn, Stockett takes the reader back to how the white character must be appeased by the black characters. It’s as if she forgets that readers won’t just be white, but different ethnicities and even African Americans.

Maybe this would have worked in 1950, but it all becomes much too convenient. Yule May’s story was a non-story, something to show just how influential and evil Hilly could be, and perhaps how kindly it makes Skeeter look in comparision. The problem is, “good” never goes up against “evil” Skeeter is a poor Luke Skywalker. She never confronts anyone, or even has the inclination to do so.

Yule May Crookle is a character whose reason for stealing from Hilly doesn’t warrant sympathy. It’s only after Hilly takes it a step further that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. But the biggest crime of all in my opinion is Stockett’s handling of this character. There was no need for Yule May to steal. End of story. It only serves to build Hilly up as the unrelenting and unforgiving face of bigotry in the book, and adds yet another negative stereotype that was prevalent on African Americans during segregation. That we weren’t to be trusted because we would steal.  And what did Kathryn Stockett do? Well, all through the novel Hilly has been known as the employer who’d lie and state a maid would steal from her. So Yule May became the maid who made Hilly’s lies come true.  But wouldn’t Yule May have known firsthand  just how rotten Hilly was, having been her maid?  So the actions she takes, like going to Hilly for money and then stealing a ring, knowing full well Hilly should be the last person a black maid dared to cross just doesn’t wash. And suddenly confessing to Skeeter, Hilly’s “good friend” is just as far fetched.

To be continued. . .

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