In The Help, life for the domestics and also their employers would be almost idyllic if not for Hilly. To see just important Hilly is as the face of segregation and bigotry, take a look at how the novel would read if she wasn’t there.
In the first chapter during the bridge game, Elizabeth advises one of her playing partners to use the spare bathroom, the same one the black help uses. Without Hilly, who’d be there to complain?
Not Miss Walters, she wouldn’t have to sarcastically reveal that Hilly doesn’t want to use the same bathroom as the help. Apparently sharing the same toilet doesn’t bother Miss Walters.
Not Skeeter, she’s sympathetic due to Constantine’s influence on her.
Not Elizabeth, it’s her house.
In fact, without Hilly in the novel, its as if segregation is actually bearable. Sure, the book mentions Medgar Evers murder and the senseless beating of a lesser character’s son. But for Aibileen and Minny, and even Yule May, its Hilly who keeps the other white characters in line, cracking the whip so to speak, and insuring they follow segregationist ideology to the letter.
Without Hilly, Skeeter would have nothing to fear when she misplaces her satchel, a bag that contains “Negro Activist Materials.” And without Hilly’s snooping around and disclosures, none of the other maids would face retribution for participating in Skeeter’s book. It’s Hilly who runs about town, first to persuade other white families to build separate outhouses for their black help, and next to punish maids for their participation in the novel Help. And it’s Hilly who stabs Skeeter in the back, hurling the insult that Stuart, Skeeter’s ex-fiance was right to dump her. It’s also at Hilly’s urging that Skeeter be shunned while visiting many of the places and people she used to associate with. Skeeter’s let go as the Junior League’s newsletter editor, she’s no longer welcome at the monthly bridge games, in short, Skeeter feels the chill of Jackson society mostly due to Hilly’s machinations.
Even the white males in The Help are tame in comparision to Hilly’s antics. They’re all generally respectful, save for the unknown pervert. But even the pervert does not attack Minny first. She goes after him, in a poorly thought out, fool-hardy decision while she’s still in the safety of Miss Celia’s house (see Minny, the mouse that roared for more information on this scene).
In Kathryn Stockett’s version of the south, the men are generally genteel while Hilly rules with an iron fist.
It’s Hilly everyone is afraid of in this novel, as if she can snap her fingers and a bunch of hood wearing KKK members will appear, able and willing to do her bidding. Her lines are over the top, as well as her mannerisms.
Hilly is evil incarnate. And yet, people are still friends with her.
So why is Hilly so all powerful, and so all consuming? and how is it that a mere twenty-four year old socialite can run Jackson, Mississippi?
Because it was easier that way.
By focusing on a singular character and making her the convenient “fall guy” then the true life racial tensions and strife going on in Jackson need not be delved into. There’s no need to really concern the reader with the fact that there were many such “Hilly’s” in and around Jackson for generations on end. And that contrary to how the novel portrays it, many southern white males were either members or supporters of the Concerned Citizens Council, formerly known as the White Citizen’s Council.
The point wasn’t to make the real bad guys bad guys in The Help. That would probably piss off too many people who reside in the real Jackson, some of whom were probably friends of the author. But if their families never participated in victimizing African Americans, or were members of either Citizen’s Council, then there would be nothing to get mad about.
How pervasive was the attitude of holding blacks down? Bad enough that a major newspaper in Jackson was in on it.
American Journalism Review
By Marcel Dufresne
On June 23, 1963, two days after avowed white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith was first arrested in the ambush murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi, the hometown Clarion-Ledger led its story with a curious headline: “Californian is Charged with Murder of Evers.”
Curious because the headline obscured the fact that Beckwith, a California-born fertilizer salesman with a record of racist activities, had deep roots in the South and lived most of his life in Greenwood, Mississippi, 90 miles north of Jackson. The headline became the most quoted in the paper’s 154-year history, symbolizing an alliance with segregationists that had earned it the nickname “The Klan-Ledger” from civil rights advocates in Mississippi during the 1950s and ’60s.
A quarter century after two separate murder trials of Beckwith ended in hung juries, it was a far different Clarion-Ledger that led the charge beginning two years ago to reopen the Evers case, one of the most notorious murders in the racially explosive ’60s. Back then the paper was owned by the powerful Hederman family, which had no qualms about slanting the news in its substantial newspaper holdings across Mississippi to reflect its opposition to integration. In what some think is a fitting irony, the Clarion-Ledger was purchased in 1982 by Gannett, a chain with an aggressive policy of hiring and promoting blacks, and of covering minority communities. Today, the paper has one of the few black managing editors in the country, and at least three times the national average of black professionals in its newsroom.
See the rest of the article here: http://www.ajr.org/article.asp?id=1311
And bad enough that even a black newspaper editor was a paid informant:
On January 28, 1990, “Mississippi’s Secret Past,” a series by Mitchell and reporters Leesha Cooper and Michael Rejebian, took readers inside the commission files and introduced them to the victims, both prominent and obscure, of the agency’s spy activities. The stories reported that:
The commission used dozens of spies, white and black, who infiltrated various organizations and helped collect incriminating information. Among the paid black informants were Percy Greene, the late editor of the weekly Jackson Advocate , Mississippi’s largest black newspaper, and B.L. Bell, a prominent black educator.
Excerpt from the same article : http://www.ajr.org/article.asp?id=1311
Spies were everywhere in Mississippi, and Hilly’s actions are tame compared to what really happened over decades, not just in the 1960s.
All throughout the novel, Hilly is portrayed as she who must be obeyed. Yet when it’s all said and done, all Hilly’s machinations are just to teach Skeeter a lesson:
“I’ve decided I want her to sit in that room and see what a fool she’s made of herself.” Hilly explains, intending to teach Skeeter a lesson. “She needs to learn that she can’t carry on this way. I mean, around us it’s one thing, but around some other people, she’s going to get in big trouble.”
“It’s true, There are some racists in this town.”Elizabeth says.
And Hilly answers, “Oh they’re out there.” (Pg 290)
Wait a doggone minute. Who doesn’t love a good villain? Hilly was built up as this staunch segregationist, like she was a card carrying member of the KKK. And this is the climax the reader gets?
She’s not really bad. She’s just mis-understood. What a cop-out!
So since Aibileen has overheard all this, and she now knows that Hilly’s not coming for her and the others in the middle of the night, why all the fear over what Hilly might do?
To be continued…