Character Study

Aibileen Clark- The first narrator, a middle aged African American maid who works for Elizabeth Leefolt. Aibileen is a nurturing character, showing tender affection for Mrs. Leefolt’s two year old daughter Mae Mobley. At first Aibileen is wary of involving herself in a book on domestics in Jackson, Mississippi. However, because she serves as the “bridge”character, or the mediator between Skeeter and the other black maids needed for the project, she soon warms up to Skeeter’s desire to record her memories.

Aibileen lost her son two years ago, and her husband has run off with another woman. So the manuscript gives Aibileen something to do besides running the Leefolt household. Because her character is the affable guide, so her participation in Skeeter’s book leaves her at the mercy of Hilly. At the end of the novel though she’s saddened to be dismissed from the Leefolt household (due to Hilly’s insistence), her spirit is bowed but not broken.

Viola Davis as Aibileen in film version of The Help and young actress as Mae Mobley

Character Study: Aibileen is a been there, done that character. In the history of literature and movies, this was a default character many white writers used to depict minorities. The quiet, easy to get along with minority who serves as a bridge between cultures. In The Help, while Aibileen offers positive affirmations to Mae Mobley, she all but ignores the abuse her best friend’s children are going through. The author has this character making offensive statements about her skin color, and while Aibileen’s views on life appear harmless and folksy, a closer look at what she’s actually saying is important. Aibileen says this about herself and a roach: He black. Blacker than me. And has raised one of her now grown charges using this advice: Don’t drink coffee or you’ll turn colored.

For all the “goodness” this character exhibits while dealing with the white characters, she falls into Uncle Tom territory with the way the author has her associating with her own community.

A critical review of Aibileen can be found here: http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/saint-aibileen/

and here: http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/the-problem-with-the-help/

 

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Minny  Jackson – Aibileen’s friend. A bossy maid who’s unable to keep employment because of her sharp tongue. Minny is a character who was intended to  provide the book’s comedic moments, however I failed to find her humorous. Instead she comes off as buffoonish, and ranks just above Hilly as a clear stereotype. Minny has opinions on both whites and blacks in the novel, and it’s not until she’s involved with Skeeter’s book and gets to know Miss Celia that her conversations and thoughts become relevant. She’s the “sassy” maid, and Aibileen’s good friend. After she loses her job with Miss Walters (Hilly’s mother), Aibileen helps her land another one with Celia Foote, who’s considered white trash and is shunned by socialites like Hilly and Elizabeth. Minny is married with five children and a sixth on the way.

Celia gives Minny a hug, which is supposed to make moviegoers chuckle and go "Awww"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

Character Study: Besides Hilly, Minny is the most stereotypical maid in the book. Like Aibileen, the wise cracking black maid is a product of days past, where large, dark women ran white households, grumbling about the work they did while TV and movie audiences laughed. Even though Kathryn Stockett added a twist, the fact that Minny is an abused woman doesn’t gain her much sympathy with many readers. Her abuse storyline takes a back seat to the humor she’s supposed to provide. As a result, this character’s bravado and bluster is at odds with all known data on how abused women, especially those who’ve been victims for a number of years behave (Minny’s suffered abuse for over fifteen years). The stereotypical “sassy” maid demeanor overshadows a victim of domestic violence. It also begs the question, if this character had been white, would she still be cracking jokes? Would she still lift a hand to go after a naked man while admonishing her employer to “lock the door behind her?” And would she smack her own child in defense of Celia’s already damaged honor (Sugar, after the teen jokes about Celia Foote being drunk at the Junior League Benefit). Also what many readers and critics ignored, is how Minny loudly berates and negatively labels her youngest daughter, Kindra. There is a difference made by Aibileen of all people, who is determinded to love and protect Mae Mobley, yet she ignores the abuse Minny and Leroy heap on their children. Between Minny’s brash tongue and Leroy’s frighteningly violent nature, Minny’s children are at greater risk than Mae Mobley.

A critical review of Minny can be found here:  http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/06/29/is-minny-the-mouse-that-roared/

and here: http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/the-problem-with-the-help/

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/10/17/the-abuse-storyline/

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Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan – of all the characters in the book, Skeeter is the one who actually takes a journey of the spirit, body and mind. Body wise she actually gets to physically leave Jackson, Mississippi as her revealing novel called Help gains her new employment. Skeeter is the “chosen” one, in terms of being portrayed as somewhat liberal in her thinking, basically good at heart and different from all the other gals who enjoy tormenting their black domestics. Skeeter had questions about Constantine’s dismissal (a beloved maid from her childhood)  and finally found them. And she realized that she didn’t fit in with Hilly or the mindset of her hometown. She also realized Stuart wasn’t the man for her. The reader is given more info on Skeeter than any other character in the novel, like bits of her childhood, her relationship with her parents and Constantine, and also her quest for love. Skeeter is a recent graduate of Ole Miss and has returned to her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi to find a job and find herself. This leaves her open to seeing her hometown’s inequitable treatment of the black domestics, primarily the female maids in the employ of her friends. Skeeter both admires and fears disappointing her mother and her friend Hilly, yet she pursues completing a manuscript called “Help” with primary assistance from a maid named Aibileen. She also seeks the reason Contantine abruptly left her family’s employ.

Skeeter does her Thelma and Louise impersonation and rides off into the sunset

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

Character Study: With a mother who has strong feelings on race and a father who doesn’t venture to speak on it, how Skeeter became so liberal is a puzzlement in this novel. Especially with statements like this coming from her: Sometimes two girls from from next door would come over to play with me, named Mary Nell and Mary Roan. They were so black I couldn’t tell them apart and called them both just Mary (Pg 62). Even Skeeter’s relationship with Constantine doesn’t explain it. But then, Skeeter never publicly expresses any liberal sentiment, so perhaps this is wish fulfillment on the part of the reader (or author misdirection). While the character pines over Constantine, it reads more as a child missing a favorite toy. Skeeter never reveals whether she believes segregation is wrong or if she comes to the conclusion at the novel’s end that blacks and whites are equal. And though she’s the editor of a bestseller that has brokered her escape from Jackson, the character is unnaturally stiff when saying goodbye to Aibileen, the maid who made all her dreams possible.

A critical review of Skeeter can be found here: http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/07/04/is-skeeter-two-faced/

 

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Hilly Holbrook- this character never really changes throughout the book. In the first chapter she’s set up as the villain and maintains that persona throughout the novel. What she does learn is that “Johnny” (Celia’s husband. Celia is the character Stockett called a red neck in a UK interview) never fell as hard for her as she apparently did for him. If evil had a name it would be Hilly. Her character is one of the weakest in terms of character development in the novel.

Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly "Boo-hiss" Holbrook

Character Study: With Hilly the reader gets a convenient fall “gal” primarily used to personify bigotry and those who truly believed in segregation. She’s the puppetmaster, and if she wasn’t around what I took out of it was that the next generation of society ladies wouldn’t have been so hard on their help. This could turn out to be a thankless role in the movie. I can just hear the music when she enters a scene. With the kind of dialogue Hilly has in the book, I can see a scowl in just about every scene as well a raised eyebrow. Since Skeeter is the “chosen” one. Hilly is just boo hiss. She’s the childhood friend of Skeeter and Elizabeth, and the president of the Junior League in Jackson, Mississppi. Roomed with Skeeter at Ole Miss for two years, dropped out to get married. Her husband is running for local office, and Hilly tries to push through a sanitation initiative so that all the white homeowners have a separate bathroom (outside, like an outhouse) for their black domestics. Hilly is a woman who enjoys controlling others and striking fear into those who dare to oppose her. When Skeeter begins working with the maids and subsequently has “Help” published, she runs afoul of Hilly.

A question that is never adressed in the novel is how this twenty-four year old woman garned enough connections to almost run the society circles in Jackson. Especially since she’s neither wealthy or comes from a politically powerful family. Hilly’s husband is attempting to enter politics as the novel begins, but that doesn’t shed light on why everyone follows or is afraid of her. She’s a young upstart, yet there’s no elder society woman in the novel who either mentors or challenges her.

A critical review of Hilly can be found here: http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/why-the-help-gets-on-my-last-nerve/its-all-hillys-fault/

 

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Celia Foote - Newest resident of Jackson, Mississippi, winds up hiring Minny because she cannot cook and initially tries to hide Minny’s involvement with house cleaning and cooking  from her husband. Celia has also been unsuccessful with bearing a child. She forms an unlikely bond with the sharp tongued Minny. As the “white trash” outsider, she runs afoul of Hilly Holbrook after marrying Johnny Foote (Hilly former boyfriend). Celia desperately wants to fit in, but because of her birthplace (Sugar Ditch, a place that Minny deems the lowest in the whole United States) Celia’s fonder for gossip. When Minny is fired from Miss Walters (Hilly’s mother) household, its Celia who gives her employment and bonds with her. Celia has debilitating depression, which she makes worse by drinking.  However, she is generally a good woman, and there is a scene in the book where she saves Minny from certain death, after Minny unwisely goes outside to confront a naked pervert.

A critical review of Celia can be found here: http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/10/14/theres-something-about-celia/

 

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Elizabeth Leefolt –  employer of Aibileen, best friends with Hilly and Skeeter.  Elizabeth is easily led by Hilly. She’s also unable to be an affectionate mother to her daughter Mae Mobley, and so Aibileen becomes the child’s primary caretaker, teacher and surrogate mother. Has a son later in the novel. Aibileen calls him Li’l Man. Elizabeth is usually called Miss Leefolt in the novel, and isn’t able to run her own household or deal with her two children (one of which is Mae Mobley) without Aibileen’s intervention. It’s Aibileen that gives Mae the kind of affection and guidance that a mother should. But that’s Aibileen’s purpose in the novel. The wise old sage.

 

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Leroy  Jackson – Minny’s husband. He’s both verbally and physically abusive to her. He’s also unsupportive, and so Minny does not disclose the book she’s working on with the other maids and Skeeter. This is another thankless character, and in several scenes he’s mentioned as being drunk and asleep. He’s fired from his job when Minny’s involvement in the book is suspected.

A critical review of Leroy can be found in these posts:

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/the-help-useless-to-african-americans/

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/few-good-men-of-the-help/

 http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/10/17/the-abuse-storyline/

 

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Kindra Jackson - Minny’s five year old daughter, though her dialogue makes her seem older. According to her mother Kindra is a mini-Minny. Which means her mouth will also get her into trouble for her “sassiness.” There’s a double standard with the way Mae Mobley is protected by Aibileen and Kindra is not, even though Kindra is only five when the novel begins. Kindra also borders on stereotype as the little black girl with “attitude”. Having Minny make that determination, as well as having Minny holler at her children and even smack one (Sugar) was a major mis-step in my opinion.

A critical review of Kindra and the other children in the novel can be found here:

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/comparing-mae-mobley-to-kindra/

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

 

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Charlotte Phelan- Skeeter’s demanding , overbearing mother. She’s also stricken with cancer, but tells Skeeter she has “refused to die.” Skeeter has never been able to live up to her mother’s ideal of how she should look and behave. Their relationship is a tenuous one. Charlotte is concerned with Skeeter being the proper lady, while Skeeter longs to be anything but. A throwback belle of the old south and every daughter’s nightmare. Charlotte measures her daughter’s worth at every opportunity, and her advice on how a girl should look and behave is almost as bad as her advice on how black help should be treated. It’s a wonder Skeeter’s father, Carlton Phelan or Atticus Finch lite married her. Because they appear to be complete opposites in thought and deed.

 

 

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Stuart Whitworth - A blind date who turns out to be more. Hilly fixes Skeeter up with Stuart, a politician’s son. Hilly has ulterior motives which are revealed at the end of the book. Stuart initially canceled their first meeting the day before, but when they finally get to go out, he tells Skeeter that her coat smells like fertilizer. Stuart is still hurting over the loss of his previous girlfriend, and Skeeter’s such a novice at dating (she’s twenty-four and this is her first real courtship) the poor girl doesn’t realize after the “fertilizer” crack she should have kicked him to the curb. Instead she lets Stuart whine about his old girlfriend and even keeps from him her involvement with the maids novel. Like just about all the white male characters in The Help, Stuart sounds like he’s just arrived from yatching off Martha’s Vineyard. And like Hilly, his character is under developed.

A critical review of Stuart can be found here:

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/challenging-stockett-on-segregation/

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/few-good-men-of-the-help/

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/the-help-useless-to-african-americans/

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Mae Mobley Leefolt – Toddler watched daily by Aibileen and one of Elizabeth Leefolt’s two children. Because Mae’s mother is unable and unwilling to devote time and attention to her, the child turns to Aibileen, who treats her with tenderness and love. When the novel begins Mae is two years old. By the time the novel ends, Mae is five and in school, old enough at the novel’s end to beg Aibileen to stay, after Elizabeth Leefolt fires the maid at Hilly’s insistence.

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Constantine Bates- Skeeter’s beloved childhood maid. The mystery behind Constantine’s rather abrupt departure from the Phelan household (while Skeeter was away at college)  fuels Skeeter’ s desire to learn more about the woman and how Aibileen and the other domestics feel about being employed by the residents of Jackson, Mississippi.

Character Study: This is the character who practically raised Skeeter, yet once the truth behind her departure is revealed, it doesn’t deliver the climax the buildup promised. Again, this character is a throwback caricature, an “earth mother” who’s large, dark (though she’d bi-racial) and full of folksy sayings like Aibileen. In fact, they could almost be the same character. Constantine’s scenes are too short to really get much sense of her motivation to give up her own child, simply because Lulabelle was light. In 1934 Fredi Washington played Peola in the original film version of Imitation of Life. Washington was also bi-racial. In any event, the Constantine had to give up her child because she looked white storyline turned out to be a bust. Constantine’s last name is changed to Jefferson in the film.

Fredi Washington, African American Actress

A critical review of Constantine can be found here: http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/the-problem-with-the-help/

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Elaine Stein – Harper & Row Publishing house editor. “Missus Stein” as she’s referred to by Skeeter in the book, takes an interest in Skeeter simply because it’s “admirable that that a young lady with absolutely no work experience would apply for an editing job at a publisher as prestigious as ours.”  This excerpt is part of the letter Missus Stein sends in response to Skeeter’s resume. Elaine Stein corresponds with Skeeter over the length of the novel, and tell her to write about what disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else. After hearing Aibileen speak of her deceased son Treelore’s idea to write his experience working for a white employer, Skeeter decides to tweak and expand this idea with the guidance of Missus Stein. Elaine Stein is also Jewish, and Skeeter realizes I have never met a Jewish person.

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Yule May Crookle – Hilly’s maid, and also the only black female without a pronounced southern accent. This is probably attributed to her years of college, though the book states she never graduated. Yule May is described as tall, with a better figure than Hilly. She also steals a ring from Hilly in a mis-guided attempt to send one of her college aged twin sons to a private college (one twin’s tuition is already paid, but Yule May and her husband were short seventy-five dollars for the other twin’s tuition) This results in a supposedly smart woman stealing from Hilly of all people, even though Hilly’d previously turned down Yule May’s request for a loan and believes every white home in Jackson, Mississippi should have separate outhouses for their black domestics. And yes, Yule May’s last name is Crookle as in she’s in jail because she is a”crook” which is part of her last name.  Another poster pointed this out on the Amazon.com site. I believe this is the author’s mis-placed attempt at being funny (of note is the last name change for the movie).

A critical review of  Yule May can be found here: http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/yule-may-crookle/

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/colorstruck-in-the-help/

 

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Lulabelle Bates - Near white looking daughter of Constantine. Is sent away to a Chicago orphanage at the age of four, runs afoul of Charlotte Phelan when she returns to Jackson to see her mother and mingles with members of DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) during a meeting being held in the Phelan house. Lulabelle is what’s known as the “tragic mulatto” character in literature. For some reason, a character torn between two worlds, one who looks white but is classified as black due to the “one drop rule” has fascinated many writers. There’s also fear about this type of character, because if one looks too white they can “pass” thereby marrying into a white family. But since there’s no “pure” whites anyway, all the fuss reveals just how bigoted society (not just American) has been over the years. Lulabelle was an unneeded character, but since Stockett was throwing in just about every stereotype there was, I guess she decided to include this one. So in review, Stockett has the standard bigoted villain (Hilly) the “pure” of heart and body (as in she’s truly a virgin) Skeeter, the docile, blindly loyal Uncle Tom (Aibileen) the black “brute” (Leroy) the “tragic mulatto” (Lulabelle) the ornery, “sassy” comic maid (Minny), the loose woman with the heart of gold or blonde sexpot (Celia), the black earth mother with too many folksy sayings (Constantine). Lulabelle is renamed Rachel Jefferson in the movie version of  the novel and undergoes a complexion change, as she’s no longer light or damn near white,  but brown.

A critical review of Lulabelle can be found here: http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/colorstruck-in-the-help/

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Carlton Phelan – Skeeter’s father, owns a cotton farm though it’s also referred to as a plantation. Is quite liberal in his views on race. His first name is changed to Richard in the film.

A critical review of Carlton can be found here:

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/challenging-stockett-on-segregation/

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/few-good-men-of-the-help/

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Carlton Phelan (Jr?) – Skeeter’s older brother. Attends LSU for law, is described as tall and handsome with blonde wavy hair.

Johnny Foote - Celia’s husband. He owns a real estate office in Jackson, Mississippi. He’s also Minny’s employer.

Raleigh Leefolt – Elizabeth Leefolt’s husband and Aibileen’s employer.

William Holbrook – Hilly’s husband. Has political aspirations of winning Stoolie Whitworth’s state senate position.

Senator “Stoolie” Whitworth – Stuart Whitworth’s father. A critical review of this character can be found here: http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/few-good-men-of-the-help/

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/challenging-stockett-on-segregation/

 

Pascagoula – The maid who replaces Contantine in the Phelan household.

Reverend Johnson – The pastor of the church Aibileen, Minny and most of the maids in The Help attend.

Treelore Clark- Aibileen’s son. Only lived to be twenty-four. Died in an accident on the job. It’s his idea to write about working for a white employer. After Aibileen reveals this, Skeeter asks to use his premise for the maid’s book.

Ross Leefolt - Elizabeth Leefolt’s second child. Also called “Li’l Man” by Aibileen.

Naked, unknown pervert – Comes out of the woods and jacks off, then throws an object through one of Celia’s windows. When Minny goes outside to confront him, he gains the upper hand and punches her in the head. Celia saves her by beating the man unconscious with a fireplace poker. When he regains consciousness, he departs into the woods surrounding Celia house. No real purpose for his intrusion, other than it enables Minny and Celia to further bond from such a weird, traumatic experience.

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