A cream will not straighten my nose or take of a foot off my height. It won’t add distinction to my almost translucent eyebrows, nor add weight to my bony frame. And my teeth are already perfectly straight. So this is all she has left to fix, my hair. – Skeeter – Pg 109
Not to worry. The part of Skeeter is being played by Emma Stone, continuing a long tradition in Hollywood to cast an actress not according to the character description, but by how well they look on screen (not that Emma Stone isn’t talented. But the author’s depiction of Skeeter in the novel and the Skeeter of the movie are complete opposites in appearance)
The only difference is, the black actors and actresses have been cast in my opinion, according to how well they fit the descriptions in the book in addition to their acting talent. More info on the cast for the film version of The Help can be found here: https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/07/31/cast-the-first-stone/
I am neither thrilled nor disappointed by the news that they might let a colored man into Ole Miss, just surprised. – Skeeter, Pg 83
For a young woman seeking her first real job at a newspaper, its surprising how little interest Skeeter shows in current events. What’s also surprising is that Skeeter, who graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1962 would not have known before hand about the efforts of James Meredith to enroll in Ole Miss. On May 31, 1961 the NAACP filed suit, alleging Meredith was being denied admission because of his race. Governor Ross Barnett waged a vigorous effort to block Meredith with a passage of law prohibiting any person convicted of a state crime from admission to a state run school. Meredith, like many other blacks seeking the right to vote, was convicted based on the trumped up “false voter registration”charge.
In addition, a standoff between President John F. Kennedy and the Governor had been brewing for months, culminating with a riot by white students on Oct 1st of 1962. True, by that time Skeeter had already graduated. But the nation was riveted by news reports coming out of Mississippi. This would be a true test not only for President Kennedy, but his brother Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, the nation’s attorney general.
That Stockett would manipulate and even omit key historical facts to keep the novel from exploring not only the true brutality of segregation, but the mindset behind the theory of “separate but equal” is disappointing. Instead as the above excerpt shows Skeeter acts surprised, as if the very college she just graduated from knew little of Meredith’s intent to attend.
Which goes back to the title of this post. Because at times, Skeeter is quite the conflicted protagonist, if not a bit two-faced.
She has no qualms about using Aibileen’s knowledge of cleaning in order to submit articles for a weekly advice column (while knowing full well only she will be given sole credit), and then she co-ops Aibileen’s deceased son’s idea as the basis for her novel on the maids. But what really seems out of character, is while fondly recalling her beloved maid Constantine, Skeeter reveals her own insensitive rationale in describing two playmates with identical first names, they were so black I couldn’t tell them apart and called them both just Mary (Pg 62)
Even on her quest to find out what happened to Constantine, she remembers her beloved maid like this:
In fact, the shades of brown on Constantine were endless. 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 a dark ebony. The palms of her hands were orangey-tan and that made me wonder if the soles of her feet were too, but I never saw her barefooted. -Skeeter, (Pg 65)
And though Constantine has eyes that Skeeter notes are light brown, strikingly honey colored against her dark skin. there’s no mention that the combination could be attractive on the woman. All Skeeter continues with is I’ve never seen light brown eyes on a colored person.
Yet she insists she misses Constantine more than anything I’ve ever missed in my life though it’s not exactly clear why, given her preoccupation with looks. But even that is someone else’s fault. Because her mother is petite and pretty, Skeeter feels much too tall, much too kinky haired, and very much like an outsider in thought and appearance. Perhaps that’s why she gravitates to Constantine, and later on to Aibileen.
Charlotte Phelan, like Elizabeth Leefolt entrusts the care and keeping of young Skeeter to the household help. It’s Constantine who shares Skeeter’s secrets. And it’s Constantine who keeps them, even working out a signal to alert a then fourteen year old Skeeter, so that her mother won’t catch her smoking.
Now an adult, Skeeter is frustrated when she’s unable to get a straight answer concerning Constantine’s departure.
“Mother, she raised me. You tell me right now what happened!” I’m disgusted by the squeakiness in my own voice, the childish sound of my demands. Skeeter (Pg 81)
Or her father who she says is too honest a man to hide things so I know he doesn’t have any more facts than about it than I do (Pg 82)
So she continues to badger Aibileen instead, visiting the maid at her place of employment, which is Elizabeth Leefolt’s house. Skeeter frets over losing Constantine, not even realizing her questioning of Aibileen could lead to the maid’s dismissal if Elizabeth gets too suspicious. And by the novel’s end, even after forging some type of friendship with Aibileen and Minny, does she promise to stay in touch? Does she offer a hug, a squeeze or reveal that she doesn’t want to lose touch with Aibileen like she’d done with Constantine. Nope.
But another indication of Skeeter’s “it’s all about me, not about you” split personality can be found in this excerpt:
On New Years Day, I come downstairs to start on the black-eyed peas for good luck. Pascagoula set them out to soak last night, instructed me on how to put them in the pot and turn on the flame, put the ham hock in with them. It’s pretty much a two-step process, yet everyone seems nervous about me turning on the stove. I remember that Constantine always used to come by on January first and fix out good-luck peas for us, even though it was her day off. She’d make a whole pot but then deliver one single pea on a plate to everyone in the family and watch us to make sure we ate it. She could be superstitious like that. Then she’d wash the dishes and go back home. But Pascagoula doesn’t offer to come in on her holiday, and, assuming she’s with her own family I don’t ask her to. (Pg 375)
At twenty-three, Skeeter grows up quite a bit in this novel, since like Celia and even Mae Mobley, she doesn’t seem to be able to function as an adult without the help. And as the excerpt shows, a part of her great affection for Constantine came down to what the woman was willing to do, like coming over to work even on her day off.
Hilly is as Hilly does
Hilly, bad to the bone villain that she is, bullies Skeeter into including her sanitation initiative in their Junior League newsletter. And she strikes true terror into Skeeter and Aibileen when she rumages through Skeeter’s misplaced satchel. Sure enough, Hilly finds some activist literature (though thankfully not the maid’s stories) and library books Skeeter was using as research material. When poor Skeeter’s forced to lie and grovel to get her documents back, the irony is she experiences but a taste of what the black help have to go through to appease their employers. Still, this is just temporary until the completed manuscript is sent out.
But it also begs the question, why is Skeeter even friends with the likes of Hilly and Elizabeth? Surely Hilly’s drama and control freak show must have appeared at other times when all the friends got together. These are young ladies who attended the same elementary school. And Skeeter even roomed with Hilly for two years at Ole Miss, which means she was either a glutton for punishment or she meekly went along because Hilly is an alpha female.
On page 88, a clue to Skeeter and Hilly’s “friendship” is given.
Hilly and I have always been uncompromisingly honest with each other, even about the little things. With other people, Hilly hands out lies like the Presbyterians hand out guilt, but its our silent agreement, this strict honesty, perhaps the one thing that has kept us friends.
This is just after Hilly has stung Skeeter with yet another blunt statement, that she truly believes the blind date she’s set Skeeter up with is good enough for her, contrary to what Skeeter’s mother has probably told her.
As Skeeter is written, she’s being pulled along through no fault of her own. Yet before she graduated from college, she too benefited from a segregated system. So why now? Why does she now see everything she once believed as right, so wrong?
I found this great explanation on the popular blog stuff white people do, which just so happens to be written by white male named Macon D.
Macon states in an excerpt: “I find it telling that when an interviewer asked Stockett if Skeeter is an autobiographical character, she replied, “Absolutely not. I was never that brave. Frankly, I didn’t even question the situation down there. It was just life, and I figured that’s how the whole world lived. It wasn’t until I was about 30 years old that I started looking back on it.”
Exactly. And that’s exactly what’s wrong with the thoroughly non-racist Skeeter. I’m not surprised that it took moving away from Mississippi, in terms of both distance and time, for Kathryn Stockett to “question the situation down there,” and I’m certainly glad she’s now “questioning” it. Racist thought and behavior on the part of whites during the Jim Crow era was just the norm back then, so seeing the evil in that, let alone thoroughly resisting it, would likely be very difficult while living in the thick of it, and while enjoying the privileges of membership in the white club.
And so, again, it seems implausible that someone like Skeeter, having been born and raised at that time in Mississippi, would be so completely outside of that norm, so different from other white people. And again, it does seem plausible that Stockett (and perhaps her editors) portrayed her that way so that white readers can more readily see themselves in Skeeter. In this sense, and others, this novel is thoroughly white-framed entertainment, designed to appease, rather than challenge, the ostensibly liberal sentiments of white consumers.”
When Ambitions collide
My heart racing, I drive fast on the paved town roads, heading for the colored part of town. I’ve never even sat at the same table with a Negro who wasn’t paid to do so. The interview has been delayed by over a month. First, the holidays came and Aibileen had had to work late almost every night, wrapping presents and cooking for Elizabeth’s Christmas party. In January, I started to panic when Aibileen got the flu. I’m afraid I’ve waited so long, Missus Stein will have lost interest or forgotten why she even agreed to read it. – Skeeter (Pg 143)
When Skeeter decides she’s going to write the maid’s stories, nothing and no one is going to stop her. On the surface, it seems like a wonderful thing for her to do. But carefully reading her account of going to see Aibileen for the first time, and a side of Skeeter emerges that Hilly would be foolish to tangle with. Skeeter is ambitious. Skeeter is driven. And hell hath no fury like a woman trying to achieve her dream.
Skeeter’s even willing to lie about it to Elaine Stein, the big shot New York editor:
“And,” I felt compelled to continue, “eveyone knows how we white people feel, the glorified Mammy figure who dedicates her whole life to a white family. Margaret Mitchell covered that. But no one ever asked Mammy how she felt about it.”
But Elaine Stein calls her bluff asking, “what maid in her right mind would ever tell you the truth?”
“The first interviewee is…eager to tell her story.” (Pg 106)
A blatant lie. Because Aibileen has previously told Skeeter, as gently as she could, “no ma’am” (Pg 103)
And though Skeeter is well aware of the dangers faced by the maids who come to divulge their stories to her (they meet secretively at Aibileen’s small apartment), its the danger Skeeter is in that appears central to the story. Skeeter hiding where she goes from her mother. Skeeter’s evasiveness to Hilly and even her first serious boyfriend Stuart, the blind date who somehow worked out.
At one point in the story, Skeeter says this:
I no longer feel protected just because I’m white. I check over my shoulder often when I drive the truck to Aibileen’s. The cop who stopped me a few months back is my reminder: I am now a threat to every white family in town. Even though so many of the stories are good, celebrating the bonds of women and family, the bad stories will be the ones that catch the white people’s attention. They will make their blood boil and their fists swing. We must keep this a perfect secret.
No, I guess it wouldn’t do to have Skeeter being assaulted like the two women in the picture taken by the late Charles Moore. Many of his photographs recorded just how many felt segregation was justified, and how many more were willing to take blows for equality. No, there’s no reason the character of Skeeter should have mug shot, like activist Joan Trumpauer.
You can read more about Joan Trumpauer Mulholland’s biography and courage under fire here:
When Hilly demands Skeeter put an article about her Home Help Sanitation Initiative into their League’s newsletter, Skeeter does her one better, purposely mixing up the clothing drop off with the Initiative. Hilly wakes up one morning to find her lawn filled with old toilets in a multitude of colors. And the local paper actually prints an embaressing picture of her yard, even identifying that it’s the home of of William Holbrook, who’s running for state senator.
Though Skeeter gets the upper hand on Hilly, she once again puts the lives of a few black people in jeopardy in order to do it. As Karen, a frequent poster on this blog pointed out in the comments thread, Skeeter barely gave the safety of Pascagoula’s brothers a second thought as she had them dump toilets on Hilly’s lawn.
I’d paid Pascagoula’s brothers twenty-five dollars each to put those junkyard pots onto Hilly’s lawn and they were scared, but willing to do it. I remember how dark the night had been, I remember feeling lucky that some old building had been gutted and there were so many toilets at the junkyard to choose from. Twice I’d dreamed I was back there doing it again. I don’t regret it, but I don’t feel quite so lucky anymore. (Pg 345-346) Skeeter recalling her prank on Hilly
This goes back to the author saying she’d never let any harm come to her characters (In the Katie Couric CBS interview). So the “danger” isn’t really there, because Stockett has revised the time period to make it seem as though Jackson, Mississippi is as funny as Mayberry (an old comedy set in the south that showed no black people residing there). But it’s also her not fully being truthful of how bad it was in Mississippi in the 1960s. Stockett wanted to put a lighter spin on things or add “humor” as she’s mentioned in a few interviews. Do readers who know the history of Mississippi honestly believe that in Hilly’s exclusive neighborhood, with both residents out of town, that no neighbor would have noticed several black men at night in the area? And that they wouldn’t have been stopped by the police, questioned, and being in the company of a young white woman, suffered jail or worse?
The toilet come uppance is another “humorous” turn of events meant to dull the sting of segregation. And while Hilly vows retribution, Skeeter never really faces any. Not even when the book is released and Hilly marches all over town, striking fear into the hearts of maids who participated and those that didn’t.
There’s also dialogue by the maids mentioning how dangerous what they’re doing is, though none of it really seems to register with Skeeter.
“Aibileen, do you think they’d. . .hurt us? I mean, like what’s in the papers?”
Aibileen cocks her head at me, confused. She wrinkles her forehead like we’ve had a misunderstanding. “They’d beat us. They’d come out here with baseball bats. Maybe they won’t kill us but. . .”
“But. . .who exactly would do this? The white women we’ve written about. . .they wouldn’t hurt us. Would they?” I ask.
“Don’t you know, white mens like nothing better than ‘protecting’ the white women’s a their town?”
My skin prickles. I’m not so afraid for myself, but for what I’ve done to Aibileen, to Minny. To Louvenia and Faye Belle and eight other women. The book is sitting there on the table. I want to put it in my satchel and hide it. (Pg 366)
But does she breath a sigh of relief once the danger that really wasn’t has passed? No, not really.
Sometimes, when I’m bored, I think can’t help but think what my life would have been like if I hadn’t written the book. Monday, I would’ve played bridge. And tomorrow night, I’d be going to the League meeting and turning in the newsletter. Then on Friday night, Stuart would take me to dinner and we’d stay out late and I’d be tired when I got up for my tennis game on Saturday. Tired and content and…frustrated…and while I’d never lie and tell myself I actually changed the minds of people like Hilly and Elizabeth, at least I don’t have to pretend I agree with them anymore (Pg 419)
Did Skeeter write this book? Or did she edit the stories the maids gave her? Since when is an editor the author of a novel? Should Stockett’s “editors” get credit for writing her novel?
It’s not as if African American authors weren’t being published and hadn’t created best selling novels during and before this timeperiod. Stockett has Skeeter referencing Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”. So how did the novel somehow become a book that Skeeter wrote? From what I can tell, Skeeter never had or even attempted to have an original thought on writing even though she’s the one with the degree in Journalism and English. Skeeter was only able to answer the Miss Myrna column with Aibileen’s assistance, and she also lifted (with Aibileen’s permission) Treelore’s idea. So what exactly did Skeeter write to be able to gain a position in a publishing house? Oh wait. She knew someone. Missus Stein hooked her up.
So what eventually becomes of Skeeter? Well, she’s off to New York City, with the blessings of both Aibileen and Minny. The book is a hit and she’s landed her dream job. Though Shrilly Hilly is making waves, Minny tells Skeeter over the phone: “don’t walk your white butt to New York, run it.”
Aibileen even cries tears of happiness in her bed, thinking I am so happy for Miss Skeeter. She starting her whole life over. Tears run down my temples to into my ears, thinking about her walking down them big city avenues I seen on tee-vee with her long hair behind her. Part a me wishes I could have a new start too. The cleaning article, that’s new. But I’m not young. My life’s almost done. (pg 437)
Maybe…I stress maybe this scene would have played better if it didn’t sound so convenient. Here we have Aibileen so happy she cries tears of joy for Skeeter, yet the reader never gets a paragraph on the tears she’s cried over the death of her only son? Tears for Skeeter? For. Skeeter.
As a reader of this blog named Karen, so asutely points out:
Skeeter’s a big part of the problem. To me it feels as though Skeeter never really comes to an understanding of what she’s doing. Is she fighting to dismantle a form of white supremacy or is she building up her professional portfolio with an edgy little project that has to stay secret?
Does she even understand what racism is? It’s not just Hilly being mean and ignorant. I want her to come to the awareness that racism is what built her home, kept her fed, and paid her way through college… that racism is what allows her to be the nice white lady who writes a book and gets a few pats on the back from the less powerful people who depend on her.
I want the veil to roll back enough for her to see herself as something less than a hero.
And yes, I want her to have to make some tough decisions and face some real consequences. I don’t see how she has either the strength of character or the bonds of love that would enable her to stand strong against racism in the face of terror.
That’s a great segue into Skeeter sees the light (sort of)
From page 268:
My father clears his throat. “I’ll be honest,” he says slowly. “It makes me sick to hear about that kind of brutality.” Daddy sets his folk down silently. He looks Senator Whitworth in the eyes. “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…” Daddy ‘s gaze is steady. Then he drops his eyes. “I’m ashamed. Sometimes, Senator. Ashamed of what goes on in Mississippi.”
Mother’s eyes are big, set on Daddy. I am shocked to hear his 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 down when the subject of race comes up. I’m suddenly so proud of my daddy, for many reasons. For a second, I swear, I see it in Mother’s eyes too, beneath her worry that Father has obliterated my future.
Whoa…why is Skeeter suddenly looking at her father like she never knew his position before? It makes no sense. So, just like Macon D and Karen pointed out, just why is Skeeter so liberal? For that matter why does the book make it seem as though all the white males AND Skeeter are so liberal? Where does all this goodness and mercy come from, especially since none of the characters mention being affiliated with CORE, the SCLC or the NAACP? It’s as if these families exist in their own litte world, far from all the racial unrest and violence flaring up around them.
Then again, maybe they didn’t. Maybe it was just diluted to appear that way. Stockett seems to want to have it both ways, having her characters associating with bigots, but somehow they aren’t. In this excerpt, Skeeter happens to see the father of the man (Stuart) she’s going on a blind date with. The words I’ve put in bold type should be noted:
Excerpt from Page 83
I hear the words Ole Miss and on the fuzzy screen I see white men in dark suits crowding the camera, sweat running off their bald heads. I come closer and see a Negro man, about my age, standing in the middle of the white men, with Army men behind him. The picture pans back and there is my old administration building. Governor Ross Barnett stands with his arms crossed, looking the tall Negro in the eye. Next to the governor is our Senator Whitworth, whose son Hilly’s been trying to set me up with on a blind date.
And much later, after finding “Negro activist” material in Skeeter’s satchel, Hilly remarks:
“You know, I was thinking about how Stuart’s daddy stood right next to Ross Barnett when they fought that colored boy walking into Ole Miss.” They’re awfully close. Senator Whitworth and Governor Barnett.” Hilly, Page 181
Yet, this is what Stockett has Stuart saying to Skeeter during a night out:
“But your father, at the table. He said he thought Ross Barnett was wrong.” – Skeeter
“You know that’s not the way it works. It doesn’t matter what he believes. It’s what Mississippi believes. He’s running for the U.S. Senate this fall and I’m unfortunate enough to know that.” – Stuart
So just like Skeeter, the author writes the character of Senator Stoolie Whitworth as a man who’s merely going along to get along.
But then, that’s the rationale for just about every character in The Help.
Notice what happens when Skeeter asks Minny about civil rights:
“Minny, do you and Leroy ever talk about civil rights?” Miss Skeeter ask. “When he comes from work?”
Minny had that big bruise on her arm cause that’s what Leroy do when he come home from work, he push her around.
“Nope” was all Minny said. Minny do not like people up in her business.
“Really? He doesn’t share the way he feels about the marches and the segregation? Maybe at work, his bo-”
“Move off Leroy.” Minny crossed her arms up so that bruise wouldn’t show. Page 183
A convenient out.
Big bossy Minny, a woman who launched an attack on a stranger to save her employer Celia Foote, refuses to talk about civil rights with Skeeter, because it involves her abusive husband Leroy, whom she’s deathly afraid of. But she’s not so afraid to go out an confront a totally naked stranger. With a broom. And a knife.
Every character seems to have another character, or situation keeping them in check, especially when it comes to speaking about civil rights.
Carlton Phelan, Skeeter’s father, has Charlotte Phelan. Elizabeth Leefolt has Hilly as does Miss Walters.
Skeeter has Aibileen to let her off the hook a number of times in the novel. Notice in this section after Skeeter learns the truth about the part her mother played in Constantine’s leaving for Chicago with her daughter:
I write what Aibileen told me, that Constantine had a daughter and had to give her up so she could work for our family-the Millers I call us, after Henry, my favorite banned author. I don’t put in 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)
That afternoon , I call Aibileen at home. “I can’t put it in the book,” I tell her. “About Mother and Constantine. I’ll end it when I go to college. I just . . .”
“I know I should. I know I should be sacrificing as much as you and Minny and all of you. But I can’t do that to my mother.”
“No one expects you to, Miss Skeeter. Truth is, I wouldn’t think real high a you if you did.” (Pg 361)
Skeeter also has Hilly for a time to deflect attention from her own inability to publicly take a stand. Though by the end of the novel, Skeeter hasn’t formally come out and stated she finds segregation wrong. Come to think of it, she really doesn’t say anything formally, except “Thank you Aibileen” which is something she never said to Constantine, so I guess that’s a start.
Just why Skeeter is the recepient of all this love and devotion is never made clear in the book, especially since the character doesn’t do much to deserve it. That’s why I’ve come to the conclusion that Skeeter is really a Mary Sue.
On page 76 the character makes this observation:
I hear Raleigh’s new accounting business isn’t doing well. Maybe up in New York or somewhere it’s a good thinkg, but in Jackson, Mississippi, people just don’t care to do business with a rude, condescending asshole.
Skeeter makes this statement after her own mother, Hilly and Elizabeth have been the rudest ones up to this point in the book.
Raleigh has one long piece of dialogue with Aibileen and that’s further towards the end of the book while Skeeter appears clueless to just how obnoxious and cruel Hilly has behaved in words and deeds. Yet Skeeter, who’s not particularly bright about her frenemy Hilly, (though she’s smart enough to get Aibileen to do the Miss Myrna column for her, and to parlay Aibileen’s deceased son’s idea into a new job in a new city by novel’s end) not overly attractive (but somehow the handsome son of a prominent state senator falls for her, even buying an engagement ring) and certainly no rights activist (doesn’t stop Aibileen, Minny and other maids from telling her their stories instead of joining in with the civil rights protestors in Jackson, some of whom are teenagers laying their lives on the line. And it certainly doesn’t stop Yule May from confessing to Skeeter, a woman who’s a total stranger, so that she can explain why she won’t be able to contribute to the maid’s stories). Somehow, Skeeter is the celebrated heroine of the novel. Yep, just call her Eugenia “Mary Sue” Phelan.
Is Skeeter really brave ? Or just written that way
There’s nothing remotely brave about what Skeeter does in secret. Actually, as Stockett has written her, to me she reads more like an opportunist. I don’t buy the “incredibly risky thing for Skeeter” Stockett has been selling as she made her book tour. Probably because I know of far too many real life heroines and young children who stood up to bigotry, that the Skeeter goes solo (or perhaps Skeeter goes rogue fits better) fictional account seems weak.
I’ve already cited Joan Trumpauer Mulholland earlier on this blog post.
Violla Liuzzo is another example. A 39 year old homemaker who felt so strongly about civil rights she attended the March on Selma with Dr. King. This innocent mother and homemaker was gunned down while giving a black marcher a ride on Marcy 25, 1965. Violla’s famous quote is “It’s everybody’s fight”
Read more abot Viola Liuzzo here: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAliuzzo.htm
So, we go from the courage under fire of a real person, to the fictional sneaking around of Skeeter.
At 3:34 minutes into the video, Stockett says:
“What an incredibly risky project for Skeeter. Not just because she was breaking these laws and putting these women at risk. But if they been discovered it would have incurred the wrath of the white women for whom these black women worked.”
As written, Skeeter comes across as pouty and pushy, badgering Aibileen about Constantine. And then using Treelore’s idea, never once offering to cite where she got the idea from. And of course, Aibileen doesn’t ask for it.
Aibileen is too much of a doormat for my taste, though many would consider her “sweet”. There’s a difference between being nice and being a pushover. She should have at least requested that her son get some recognition. After all, without his idea, there wouldn’t have been a book on the maids.
This is similar to Delilah from Imitation of Life, where she gives Bea her family recipe for free, and then refuses to take a percentage of the profits just because she wants to continue to take care of Bea and Jessie FOR NO WAGES.
Aibileen mentions that there are doctors and lawyers at her church, yet the only ones Stockett shows are the maids. Between the lot of them they don’t seem to have any business skills, and don’t think to ask anyone in the church for any assistance. Another plot hole.
Back to Skeeter and her “bravery”
Everything Skeeter did was in secret. That meant she couldn’t even speak up for Aibileen when Hilly was pressing the maid to say “Thank you” over an outhouse.
As written, there are far too many convenient outs for Skeeter not to rise to the occasion, and not to show some backbone. I’d had a glimmer of hope in the first chapter when Skeeter talked back to Hilly. From then on though, she wilted.
Skeeter never befriended Aibileen and Minny. She met secretly with them for their stories. They came away knowing little about more about Skeeter that they didn’t know before. They were never invited over to her home, never publicly acknowledged as her “friends” or anything more than just maids that helped her with the book.
While the PR spin on the book is that somehow Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny become “Friends” perhaps reading what the main character says would have cleared that up:
“Please. Find you another colored maid. A young’un. Somebody. . .else.”
“But I don’t know any others well enough.” I am tempted to bring up the word friends, but I’m not that naïve. I know we’re not friends. (Skeeter, Pg 109)
Stockett also includes a few scenes where the disconnect Skeeter has regarding the plight of the maids she works with becomes apparent:
I search through the card catalogues and scan the shelves, but find nothing about domestic workers. In nonfiction, I spot a single copy of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. I grab it, excited to deliver it to Aibileen, but when I open it, I see the middle section has been ripped out. Inside, someone has written NIGGER BOOK in purple crayon. I am not as disturbed by the words as by the fact that the handwriting looks like a third grader’s. I glance around, push the book in my satchel. It seems better than putting it back on the shelf. (Pg 172)
This scene highlights the two sides of Skeeter, which don’t war with each other very much. The character thinks I am not as disturbed by the words as by the fact the handwriting looks like a third grader’s. Skeeter is a character who’s had years of being a willing recipient and participant of segregation. To somehow believe that in a span of a few years, she’d somehow see the system as wrong, when Stockett makes it clear that the character has not reached that point in her young life is projecting what the reader wishes to occur.
A scene that highlights the one sided relationship Skeeter has with Aibileen is when they part. The parts in bold are what Aibileen reveals that stood out to me:
I know something must a happened, but I’m just so glad to see her face before she leaves for New York. We ain’t seen each other in person in six months. I give her a good hug.
“Law, let me see your hair.” Miss Skeeter pull back her hood, shake out her long hair past her shoulders.
“It is so beautiful.” I say and I mean it.
She smile like she embarrassed and set her satchel on the floor. . . . (Pg 435)
She pull a blue-cloth notebook out a her satchel, hand it to me. “He said he’ll pay you the same as me, ten dollars a week.”
Me? Working for the white newspaper? I go to the sofa and open the notebook, see all them letters and articles from past times. Miss Skeeter set beside me.
“Thank you, Miss Skeeter. For this, for everthing.” (Pg 435)
She smile, take a deep breath like she fighting back tears.
“I can’t believe you gone be a New Yorker tomorrow.” I say.
“Actually, I’m going to go to Chicago first. Only for one night. I want to see Constantine, her grave.”
I nod. “I’m glad.”
“Mother showed me the obituary. It’s right outside of town. And then I’ll go to New York the next morning. . .”
We set there a second, listening to the storm. I think about the first time Miss Skeeter came to my house, how awkward we was. Now I feel like we family. . .
I go to my bedroom and bring out the package from Reverend Johnson. She take off the paper and stare at the book, all the names signed in it. “I was gone send it to you in New York, but I think you need to have it now. . .then I pass on the Reverend’s message, that she is part of our family. “You need to remember, ever one a these signatures means it was worth it.” She read the thank-yous, the little things they wrote, run her fingers over the ink. Tears fill up her eyes.
“I reckon Constantine would a been proud a you.”
Miss Skeeter smile and I see how young she is. After all we written and the hours we spent tired and worried, I ain’t seen the girl she still is in a long, long time.
“Are you sure it’s alright? If I leave you, with everything so . . ”
“Go to New York, Miss Skeeter. Go find your life.”
She smile, blinking back tears, and say, “Thank you.”
Stockett then creates a scene where Aibileen again pours her heart out, regarding the deep emotions she feels for Skeeter:
That night I lay in bed thinking. I am so happy for Miss Skeeter. She starting her whole life over. Tears run down my temples into my ears, thinking about her walking down them big city avenues I seen on tee-vee with her long hair behind her. Part a me wishes I could have a new start too. The cleaning article, that’s new. But I’m not young. My life’s about done. (Pg 437)
Now, keep in mind that Aibileen is only fifty-four years old with no serious illness. Yet her visions are of Skeeter’s happiness. Unfortunately, there are no scenes where Skeeter or any other white adult character expresses the same sentiment, though Lou Anne does admit what Louvenia has done for her, and Mae Mobley tells Aibileen that she is her mother.
It appears that Skeeter does view segregation as unfair. Whether the character sees the unequal treatment as wrong is quite different.
There’s nothing “brave” or “liberal” about the character. Stockett makes it plain that Skeeter wanted a job in publishing, and had found the key with the maid’s stories. The character hides when the going gets tough, and leaves Jackson to seek her own happiness.
The failed romance between Stuart and Skeeter is supposed to serve as a reminder of what Skeeter has lost. The bigoted friends are meant to show just how much Skeeter has given up to see the maids stories get published. Because of this, Skeeter’s pain gains as much, or perhaps even more for those who can identify with the character than anything that happens to Aibileen and Minny.
Skeeter’s painful losses even appear to take precedent over the segregated times.
I wondered just how much different the novel would have been if Aibileen had been closer to Skeeter’s age. If one of the maid’s Stockett crafted had been younger, the novel may have been the better for it. Instead Stockett was able to get away with creating characters that readers and moviegoers have seen in years past. As I’ve previously stated, Aibileen is no more than Louise Beavers as the sweet natured Delilah in Imitation of Life, while Minny is the grumpy, wise cracking Mammy from Gone With The Wind.
To be continued…