Blonde Ambition: Skeeter as Mary Sue, Kathryn Stockett as Skeeter

Posted on November 11, 2010

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Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan is a Mary Sue.

Mary Sue

For any readers who aren’t familiar with the term, here’s a brief definition from wikipedia:

A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader. …
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Sue_character

In The Help, Skeeter aka Mary Sue graduates from college with a degree (a double major in English and journalism) and then decides she wants to be a writer? editor? reporter? oh heck, basically any job that entails writing though she’s mostly current affairs illiterate.  However, by simply sending off a letter to a New York editor, she receives a response and an offer of assistance.

If you truly are serious, I’d be willing to look over your best ideas and give my opinion. I offer this for no better reason, Miss Phelan, than someone once did it for me (excerpt of letter to Skeeter from Elaine Stein, a senior editor from the Adult book division of Harper and Row, from page 71)

In another extremely fortunate bit of “Hey everybody, Skeeter’s on some kind of roll!” Skeeter aka Mary Sue has an immediate interview with her local newspaper, where she’s blessed once again. There just happens to be an opening because the Miss Myrna column is in need of a female writer. A slight hitch concerns what Skeeter will have to write.

The column gives housekeeping tips, so Skeeter must find a way to put forth an air of expertise in this area, since she’s clueless about cooking, cleaning, and other domestic duties. But not to worry. Since she’s a Mary Sue, she will prevail. Skeeter solves her domestically challenged dilemma by nagging Aibileen for the answers, even though Aibileen works for Elizabeth Leefolt and she’ll have to complete her own work while getting interrogated by Skeeter.

 It’s during one of these brain drain sessions that Aibileen reveals her deceased son’s idea. Before his untimely demise, Treelore was contemplating writing a novel on his experience as a black man working for a white employer. Thus Skeeter now has THE BEST of  “best ideas” for editor Elaine Stein.

However, there’s another hitch. Skeeter doesn’t actually know any black people. Well, except for maids like Aibileen and Pascagoula.

She settles on Aibileen, especially since the maid has inside information on Skeeter’s beloved childhood domestic Constantine. And Aibileen delivers, introducing her to Minny, who’ll play a crucial part in providing an engrossing story concerning poop pie that will hold off the mistress of evil herself, Hilly.

So to review:

Skeeter graduates from college with no job prospect.

Just in the nick of time she receives a response from her inquiry about a job from a big shot NY editor, who offers to help her, provided she go to her local newspaper and get an entry-level job to gain writing experience.

She lands a job on her very first interview, writing the Miss Myrna column which gives housekeeping tips.

Since she doesn’t know the first thing about housekeeping and she doesn’t know any black people, she goes to an expert, a black maid named Aibileen who solves both her problems.

Aibileen gladly gives up the info and more, just because.

So for Skeeter, her employment situation is looking up.

Movie still of Charlotte Phelan and her daughter Eugenia aka Skeeter

What about her love life?

As a Mary Sue, she won’t go long in the novel without a love interest. And Hilly does have further uses besides snarling and hissing.

As Skeeter’s friend, she fixes her up with Stuart Whitworth, the handsome son of Senator “Stoolie” Whitworth.

Though Stuart is still hurting over his beautiful ex-girlfriend, somehow he falls for Skeeter, though the book describes her as awkward, almost six feet tall, thin with a bump on her nose, having deathly pale skin and frizzy blonde hair.

No matter. By the end of the novel Stuart buys Skeeter an engagement ring, even though there’s not much passionate interaction between them to justify why he would.  Some mojo that Skeeter aka Mary Sue is in possession of.

Skeeter also has a magical effect on the black help. She gets Aibileen to do her work for her (by being the ghost writer of the Miss Myrna column) and Aibileen rounds up the maids Skeeter will need for the novel. Aibileen also offers her tiny home as their meeting place, since Skeeter can’t invite them over hers, or be seen in their company. So much for the “friendship” spin the PR folks at Amy Einhorn dreamed up. When one of the maids gets arrested (Yule May Crookle) Skeeter even has the power to elicit a confession of sorts. Yule May is so devastated over not being able to participate she sends Skeeter a letter revealing that she is indeed a thief but she had a good reason for doing it (her twin sons need to attend a private college so Yule May Crookle lives down to her last name). Yes, unloading her guilty conscience on Skeeter, who’s also coincidently Hilly’s friend will set all things right.

Because of this (and to spite Hilly, since she put Yule May in jail by pressing charges) the other maids volunteer to help the pied piper known as Mary Sue I mean Skeeter. Skeeter covertly meets with the maids, and all the while they try to convince her how dangerous this is, especially with those pesky civil rights activists in town and Medgar Evers getting shot.

But like a true Mary Sue who laughs in the face of danger, Skeeter remarks “I know things are unstable but this is – ”

Fill in the rest of the sentence with “I know things are unstable, but this is  – my novel dammit! civil rights? What about my right to a fabulous career?”

or “I know things are unstable, but this is  – my chance to escape Jackson and my mother, and no one is gonna stop me.”

or

“I know things are unstable,  – but don’t you know who I am? I’m Mary Sue!”

Skeeter’s blonde ambition knows no bounds. And it pays off. At the end of the book, she lands the job of her dreams in New York, but more important, she’s a best selling author (or typist, since she acted as the stenographer when the maids told their tales). In a future post I plan on covering the “Skeeter is brave” sentiment, especially when the character comes across as anything but.

Here’s a newsflash: Just being able to associate with a minority does not make someone brave.

(for examples of bravery, see the obituaries of US Soldiers. For examples of bravery during the civil rights movement, see Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, Anne Moody. Fannie Lou Hamer. . . the list goes on )

Just because there’s on-going conversation with a member of another racial group, the act does not make someone brave.

Coming into the black community in secret to meet  in someone’s home does not make a person, even a fictional character “brave”.

Skeeter needing Aibileen and Minny to achieve her goals does not make her their friend or their “brave” friend. It makes her an opportunist.

Disney Logo

 

It’s a good thing Disney is distributing the movie, because it reads like a fairy tale.

 

 

How Skeeter is an extension of the author, Kathryn Stockett

In her early interviews Kathryn Stockett was quite open about her life growing up and about black/white relations in Jackson, Mississippi during the 1970s and 80s. So much so, that she almost parallels her character.

During her interview with Katie Couric, Stockett spoke of the society circles in which she traveled.

“. . . in Jackson, Mississippi. . .we viewed ourselves as sort of this elite community of educated, rather sophisticated southerners and unless you lived in that bubble, yeah I can see why you would question it.”

The entire interview can be viewed here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjIowZrH4iM

Much like Skeeter, the author benefited from a still segregated system, where Stockett admits her grandmother would not allow her to sit at the same table with the maid Demetrie while the woman ate, and that her grandparents also had a separate bathroom for Demetrie, during the 70s and 80s.

“But my older brother and sister and I weren’t allowed to bother Demetrie during her lunch break.  Grandmother would say, ‘Leave her alone now, let her eat, this is her time,’ and I would stand in the doorway itching to get back with her.  Grandmother wanted Demetrie to rest so she could finish her work, not to mention white people didn’t sit at the table while a colored person was eating.”

http://www.kathrynstockett.com/book/qa/

“I’m so embarrassed to admit this … it took me 20 years to really realize the irony of the situation that we would tell anybody, ‘Oh, she’s just like a part of our family,’ and that we loved the domestics that worked for our family so dearly, and yet they had to use the bathroom on the outside of the house.

“And you know what’s amazing? My grandfather’s still alive, the house is still there. Demetrie died when I was 16, and I don’t know that anyone else has been in that bathroom since then.”

Read the entire interview here: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/30306809

Though Stockett viewed Demetrie through the eyes of a child, Skeeter is presented as not quite a woman though she’s twenty-three.

Never having had a real date before, Skeeter relies on her friends and a mother who constantly nags her. She longingly thinks of her maid Constantine, her one true friend and confidant. Stockett also talks lovingly and longingly about Demetrie at the end of the novel:

“And God, how I loved to talk to Demetrie. After school I’d sit in my grandmother’s kitchen with her, listening to her stories and watching her mix up cakes and fry chicken. . . you felt loved when you tasted Demetrie’s caramel cake.”

http://www.kathrynstockett.com/book/qa/

Skeeter also speaks longingly about Constantine’s cooking, and the extraordinary lengths the maid would go through to prepare a special meal for the Phelan household:

On New Year’s 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 our 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.  (Skeeter, Pg 375)

Cicely Tyson as Constantine in film version of The Help

Stockett recalls with other friends about their “help” while she lived in NY:

“When I moved to New York, though, I realized my “normal” wasn’t quite the same as the rest of America’s. I knew a lot of Southerners in the city, and every now and then we’d talk about what we missed from the South. Inevitably, somebody would start talking about the maid they grew up with, some little thing that made us all remember—Alice’s good hamburgers or riding in the back seat to take Willy May home. Everybody had a story to tell.”

http://us.penguingroup.com/static/rguides/us/help.html

 

 

So where else do Skeeter and Stockett merge? How about when asking people about their living and working conditions as domestics?

“It’s a tricky question to ask. It is hard to approach someone and say, ‘Excuse me, but what was it like to work for a white family in the South during the 1960s?’ I guess I felt a lot like Skeeter did in The Help.”

http://www.kathrynstockett.com/book/qa/

Fictional characters and their real life counterparts merge in this novel. For example,  Stockett says this about her grandparent’s maid Demetrie, and Demetrie’s abusive husband Clyde, aka Plunk:

“Demetrie was stout and dark skinned and, by then, married to a mean, abusive drinker named Plunk.  She wouldn’t answer me when I asked questions about him.  But besides the subject of Plunk, she’d talk to us all day.”

http://www.kathrynstockett.com/book/qa/

Clyde, or as Stockett called him “Plunk” would be my guess as the inspiration for Leroy, Minny’s husband. He must have left quite an impression on Stockett, especially when she recalls attending Demetrie’s funeral:

“. . . it was the first time Stockett had been to a black church. ‘I’d never had any interaction with black people except those who worked for our family. And I couldn’t believe how overt their emotions were. There were people speaking out during the sermon, joining in, agreeing with the eulogy, singing loud solos impromptu… but what really struck me as heartbreaking was how Demetrie’s husband was carrying on.’

Demetrie’s husband was called Plunk, and he was drunk and abusive, so much so that she slept with a pistol underneath her pillow. ‘As I understand it he beat the crap out of her, but at the funeral this man was wandering the aisles, screaming, fainting from heartbreak that Demetrie was dead, calling out her name and throwing himself at the coffin – people were dragging him away, soothing him. It horrified our family. I was 16. I kept my eyes open and my mouth shut.’ “

Read the entire interview here:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/5844739/The-maids-tale-Kathryn-Stockett-examines-slavery-and-racism-in-Americas-Deep-South.html

Like Skeeter, the only black person Stockett was close to growing up was her maid Demetrie.

 
And much like Skeeter had Aibileen to introduce her to others in the black culture, in death so did Demetrie. The problem on Stockett’s end is that she was only sixteen and the experience seems to have been a traumatic one for her.
 
The result is the spectre of “Clyde” as Leroy’s doppelganger figures prominently in the novel, as the abuse Minny experiences is detailed. It also seems to have affected how black males are viewed in this novel, but it doesn’t explain why Stockett chose to defame the whole of African American males just by the actions of one (Clyde aka Plunk).

Stockett has Minny making this over-reaching assessment of black men, which is uncalled for and offensive:

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)

It also calls into question just how many African Americans Stockett has known in her life, and not just in the capacity of a domestic.

Though Skeeter never meets Leroy, when she brings up his name, Minny swiftly tells her to “Get off a Leroy” refusing to talk about him like Demetrie refused to do with Clyde/Plunk. It’s also interesting that Aibileen’s “no-account” absentee husband is also named Clyde.

In Stockett’s research, she apparently missed just how many black men risked their lives to publicly speak out and march for freedom and civil rights, which helped gain equality for her beloved maid Demetrie.

The Dogs of War unleashed upon a non violent teen

According to Stockett’s early interviews, meeting actress Octavia Spencer helped her craft the “sassy” character Minny. So while Demetrie was the inspiration for Aibileen, Octavia Spencer would help with Minny:

“Minny was the easiest to write because she’s based on my friend Octavia. I didn’t know Octavia very well at the time I was writing, but I’d watched her mannerisms and listened to her stories at parties. She’s an actress in Los Angeles, and you can just imagine the look on her face when some skinny white girl came up and said to her, “I’ve written a book and you’re one of the main characters.” She kind of chuckled and said, ‘Well, good for you.’ ” 

http://us.penguingroup.com/static/rguides/us/help.html

Viola Davis as Aibileen and Octavia Spencer as Minny in the film The Help

 

But that too poses a problem, because Minny behaves as if she’s in an 80s sit-com, not segregated Jackson, Mississippi. Stockett slips into “Blackface” in order to write scenes she views as humorous without realizing or believing  just how dangerous Jackson was back then.

Stockett makes this statement:

Oprah Radio host Nate Berkus (no transcript available)

Excerpt:

“Yes absolutely. And you learned, I think as an African American in Mississippi to be very careful with your words and then one of my favorite scenes from the book is when all the maids were on the bus and they get to talk about all their white employers and they get to make fun of them as openly as they can.”

The audio interview can be heard here:

http://www.oprah.com/oprahradio/Author-Kathryn-Stockett-Audio

In 1962, the bus drivers  in Jackson were white. Though the federal government had ordered all the nation’s transportation facilities integrated, this change was slow in coming for parts of the south, even Stockett’s beloved Mississippi. African Americans were still relegated to the back of the bus, and the raucous scene Stockett writes of in the novel would have resulted in Minny being put off the bus or worse.

Silence in the Back of the Bus

Stockett applied a modern spin to racial events, interjecting humor that falls flat at times, due to the subject matter. Much of the time the black characters are relied upon to provide the laughs, from Minny’s slapstick confrontation with the naked pervert, to her “spoilt coochie” reference as she gossips with Aibileen.  And like Skeeter, Stockett seems almost oblivious and ambivalent about the dangers African Americans faced back then. She speeds by the violence occuring during the time period, and sloppy editing leaves in a critical error where Skeeter talks about Medgar Evers being bludgeoned to death when he was actually shot to death.  

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. (Skeeter, pg 277)

Stockett continues on, preferring to concentrate on what might happen to Skeeter if she’s caught talking to the maids on the black side of the city.

Interview with UK site BookRabbit

Excerpt:

“I couldn’t stand to write a book that wasn’t funny or at least trying to be funny. And part of what I wanted to do was show the absurdity of the situation. But I really enjoyed trying to make people laugh, I can’t handle too much trauma!”

Read the entire interview here:

http://www.bookrabbit.com/blog/interview-with-kathryn-stockett-and-win-a-copy-of-the-help/

Like other books snapped up by an adoring public wanting a bit on info on race relations but not so much that the reader feels uncomfortable, Stockett followed a pattern set by Edna Ferber’s Showboat, Fannie Hurst’s Imitation of Life and Margaret Mitchell’s powerhouse Gone With The Wind.

Stockett even found a black woman to champion her novel, much like Fannie Hurst had with Zora Neale Hurston’s glowing praise of Imitation of Life, though the novel contains passages like this:

“Honey Chile, I’ll work for anything you is willin’ to pay, and not take more’n mah share of your time for my young un, ef I kin get her and me a good roof over our heads. Didn’t your maw always tell you a nigger woman was mos’ reliable when she had  chillun taggin’ at her apron strings? I needs a home for us honey. . .” (the maid Delilah selling her skills to prospective employer Bea in the 1933 novel Imitation of Life)

and this:

“Oh Lawd! Oh Lawd! Saw a brown spider webbing downward this mornin’ and know’d mah chile was a ‘comin home brown – Oh Lawd!” (The maid Delilah wailing when her daughter Peola rejects being black)

Author Fannie Hurst

And Hurst complimented Hurston with language like this:

“A brilliantly facile spade has turned over rich  new earth.” – preface to Hurston’s first novel Jonah’s Gurd Vine.

As Robert Hemenway, author of  Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography, Vine Press 1977  points out Hurst seems incessantly aware of race in her interactions with Hurston.  Introduction xliv Imitation of Life by Fannie Hurst and Daniel Itzkovitz

 

Stockett also gushes over actress Octavia Spencer, never picking up on how qualifying her statement wasn’t necessary  (the need to explain how Octavia Spencer is indeed intelligent and to list her qualifications):

“But there’s also a character named Minny. . .who was loosely inspired by the mannerisms and gestures of a friend of mine named Octavia Spencer. Octavia is an amazing actress in L. A. One of the most intelligent and versatile actresses out there today. And (laughs) I am so lucky that Octavia has agreed to go on the book tour with me. So, in the book event she’s actually going to be reading the parts of Aibileen and Minny and, and also take on a few of the white women’s voices which will be very funny to listen to and I will read the white roles and hopefully it will be a lot of fun.”

  “. . .My greatest relief in this process is that Octavia Spencer, who is such an amazing actress and a comedian really, like wet yourself funny is coming on tour with me. So,while people will be listening to me read these rather dramatic white voices, they’ll get to listen to Octavia. It’ll be so fun to hear her just roll.”

The entire podcast can be heard and downloaded here:

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

 

Yes, the  Stockett /Spencer  “friendship” almost mirrors that other  pair, Fannie Hurst and Zora Neale Hurston. Like Hurston, Spencer has spoken up for the novel in interviews and on blogs. How they were introduced has also been made public: 

“The film rights to The Help have been acquired by Stockett’s great friend Tate Taylor, whom she grew up with in Jackson. ‘It’s scary putting a part of your financial and professional future in the hands of a good friend, even if you believe in them, because he’s still on the cusp – he hasn’t had huge success yet, but he’s talented and I know he will.’ Tate introduced her to the actress Octavia Spencer, who was the inspiration for Minny Jackson in the book. (Her heart sank when Stockett gave her the manuscript to read, worried that she might appear as a character like Mammy from Gone With the Wind. ‘And then I read it and I couldn’t stop reading it. It was brilliant.’)”

Read the entire interview here:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/5844739/The-maids-tale-Kathryn-Stockett-examines-slavery-and-racism-in-Americas-Deep-South.html

Stockett even gives info on Tate Taylor, the man who would go on to direct the movie:

“One of my best friend’s growing up, Tate Taylor, wrote the screenplay, he and I had an agreement pretty early on that he was going to be the one to make the movie.”

Read the entire interview here:

 http://www.bookrabbit.com/blog/interview-with-kathryn-stockett-and-win-a-copy-of-the-help/

Recall that Tate Taylor was also instrumental in helping Stockett find the physical embodiment of Minny, as previously stated in the UK Telegraph article:

“The film rights to The Help have been acquired by Stockett’s great friend Tate Taylor, whom she grew up with in Jackson. ‘It’s scary putting a part of your financial and professional future in the hands of a good friend, even if you believe in them, because he’s still on the cusp – he hasn’t had huge success yet, but he’s talented and I know he will.’ ”

Once Octavia Spencer came on board, Stockett and Spencer become best buds, enough to take their show on the road:

“It’s amazing,” she says, with special compliments to Octavia Spencer, the actress who voices the sections by Minny, a stubborn maid whose mouth gets her in trouble.

“Octavia is feisty,” Stockett says of her friend. “I begged them to give that role to Octavia and … it’s amazing.”

Spencer, an actress from Montgomery, Ala., and now in Los Angeles, says she has read the book three times and listened to it twice.

“I love this book. If I weren’t friends with Kathryn, I would still love this book.”

Read the entire interview here:

http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2009/may/22/voices_past_remembered_new_book83144/

And the rest is history. Or her-story.

Like Skeeter’s inability to physically embrace Aibileen at their last emotional meeting (as this is the woman who’d helped Skeeter achieve her dream job), Stockett never embraces the beauty of the black culture. She’s only able to write about the maids as large dark women who coddle, curtsey and guide their white charges, black characters limited in scope since they only ever wanted to be maids according to Stockett.

When Michele Norris of NPR asks Stockett about the criticism of some black readers, Stockett says 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.”

Read the entire interview here:

 http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=120966815

And when Katie Couric asks her about the same controversy, Stockett says this:

“My grandmother spoke so properly, my stepmother speaks so properly, almost all of my friend’s parents spoke this beautiful,  just southern eloquence, and I…honestly, I just wrote it like I remembered it.”

“…but I have to say I think the African American language is lovely as well.”

“Really I was living in New York writing, channeling the voices of my childhood, of Demetrie and the black women that I had known. It felt pretty natural to me. And I’ll be the first one to admit, I didn’t get it all right.  I just played it back like a tape recorder. And it felt right.”

Read the entire interview here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjIowZrH4iM

Stockett on CBS, a photo of Demetrie is in the background

Yet just like Skeeter dodged questions about the maids novel when confronted by Hilly, once Stockett goes on a tour overseas, she inexplicably says this in an interview with Sarah Prior of the UK site BookRabbit:

” . . . once I found it was going to be published I kind of braced myself for a lot of criticism, I’m still kind of bracing myself waiting for it, I’m sure it’s coming at some point, but it hasn’t come yet.”

Read the entire interview here:

http://www.bookrabbit.com/blog/interview-with-kathryn-stockett-and-win-a-copy-of-the-help/

Which makes me wonder what Stockett believes the criticism Michele Norris and Katie Couric brought up was, since she now chooses to believe she’s never had any. That probably explains her own Skeeterish  “I know things are unstable-” moment, because in another interview she explains,  “I haven’t heard African-Americans complain that I didn’t portray how much love was out there between the blacks and the whites.”

I’ve searched, but I’ve yet to find an interview where Stockett has even visited a bookclub with black members, especially since she wrote in the “voice” of three black women. Even CBS had to put total strangers together in order to show some diversity in their interview piece. In a cringe worthy moment, one of the faux book club members who happened to be black admits they’d never met until the CBS interview.

I did find an interview the author did with Mary C. Curtis of The Root. Mary’s observations were interesting, to say the least:

Though she has spoken with Katie Couric on CBS and NPR, I was told Stockett didn’t do media. (In her speech, she accused us of searching for “toothless” racists in her family tree, a thought that never occurred to me.) While I accept the sincerity of her affection for Demetrie, during the audience Q&A, I asked how deep that connection could ever be, considering the power differential between the servant and the served.

As I looked around the room, with women of color not even matching the number of fingers on one hand unless you counted “the help,” I also asked how honest that conversation–across race, class or region–could be even now. Is there still a divide? How can it be closed? From the murmurs that greeted my politely asked question, the prospect of a frank exchange of opinions looked none too good. Read the entire interview here: http://www.theroot.com/views/coping-help

 

No Greater Love

What characters don’t reveal is just as important as what they profess or do.

Skeeter has several sections in the novel where she’s reminded of how much Constantine loved her, yet Skeeter never professes her love in return.

Like Skeeter, Stockett is a bit standoffish about professing her love for Demetrie, but open about how much she believed Demetrie loved her. This one sided affection is prevalent in many novels and movies dealing with race, where the minority can prove their affection and devotion by either confronting those who threaten the white character, or internally admitting an emotional attachment to the white lead character.

Here are examples of the black characters owning up to their attachment to the whites in the novel. Unfortunately I didn’t find the same level of emotional commitment by the white characters.

Though Lou Anne (Louvenia’s employer) and Mae Mobley’s scenes are the strongest in terms of a non-minority character showing emotion for their help.

I suppose just being tolerant enough to have a civil conversation with a black character will have to suffice:

Aibileen, pg 2:

I think it bother Miss Leefolt, but Mae Mobley my special baby.

Aibileen, pg 23:

I scan down my prayer list. My Mae Mobley got the number one rung, then they’s Fanny Lou at church. . .My sisters Inez and Mable in Port Gibson that got eighteen kids between em and six with the flu. When the list be thin, I slip in the old stinky white fella that live behind the sore, the one lost his mind. . .”

There are a number of times Aibileen called Mae Mobley “My baby” as in this excerpt on Pg 15:

Baby Girl, she looking at the door her daddy slammed, she looking at her mama frowning down at her. My baby, she swallowing it back, like she trying real hard not to cry.

Stockett tries so hard to make readers like the black characters because they’re really devoted to their white charges, that she forgets to have them act loving when dealing with their own family and friends.

There are several instances of Aibileen, Constantine and Minny offering counsel, affection and guidance to respectively, Mae Mobley, Skeeter, Celia Foote and also her husband Johnny. Stockett also takes get pains to show that Hilly does indeed have a softer side, as when she deals with her children.

Yet no such scenes exist with the black characters. The closest is Aibileen’s fond memories of her dead son Treelore.

As early as 2009 Stockett was asked to address the criticisms from the black community regarding the novel. Much of the time her answer stayed the same. However, in an interview with Lonnae O’Neal Parker  of the Washington Post she offered a different response:

” ‘ People say, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe she would try to represent black women that way.’ Demetrie didn’t go past sixth grade. She lived in a shack. I wasn’t trying to represent a whole race or people,’ she says. ‘ ”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/12/AR2010081206721.html?sid=ST2010081302928

Unfortunately,  when making the PR rounds for the novel for over a year, Stockett was often quoted saying this:

“She based the voices of some black characters on the voice of Demetrie, the African-American maid who worked for her family for years.”

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2010/03/10/1301920/the-help-author-addresses-criticism.html#ixzz18IhRiDM4

Part of the problem as I see it, is that Stockett was trying to re-create memories she’d formed at sixteen years of age. I hate to say this, but I don’t get any sense that Stockett truly knew any other African Americans after Demeterie’s death, and later on as she continued through with a career and marriage.

The relationship the author had with Demetrie was a very special one. But again I state, it was relationship based upon a  child with a caring adult. Stockett never knew Demetrie woman to woman.

It’s no wonder then, as I read the book as an adult, many of the pages only focus on how Aibileen and Minny and Constantine are good, kind, and nurturing most of the time when dealing with their white charges. This is what Stockett focuses on, but it is not a complete character. When Stockett needed to fill in the blanks about Aibileen and Minny’s adult lives, or even give them a backstory, stereotypical behavior abounds. Aibileen and Minny go to church to gossip. They don’t associate with their own congregation, but the reader is told that lawyers, doctors and others attend the same church. Minny has the stereotypical large brood and is unable to handle them. Under Stockett’s guidance, Minny desperately wishes to escape them, and not once does the character say the word “love” in relation to her children.

Aibileen is as protective as a lioness over Mae Mobley, yet is almost indifferent to the abuse her best friend’s children face on a daily basis. Stockett never has the character fretting over Minny’s youngest, like Kindra or Benny. No, Aibileen’s compassion is for Mae Mobley alone, which makes no sense. If a character is that compassionate, then only asking once to take Minny’s children would not be.

It also seems that Stockett doesn’t allow any nurturing going on with Kindra, as she lets the reader know early on that unlike her younger white counterparts Mae Mobley, Heather, Lil’ Man (Ross Leefolt) And William Jr., Kindra is as bossy and quick with the tongue as her mother, Minny. However, the reader is supposed to believe Minny is a heroine in the novel for her “sassiness” yet her daughter’s same attributes further strains Minny.

The African American male fares the worst in the novel, even compared to Hilly. Stockett at least shows a softer side of the villain when Hilly proclaims her love for her children, and Stockett even uses Aibileen to make the observation. Yet the character for which there is no redemption is Leroy, a character I’ve realized is supposed to represent Clyde/Plunk, the real life husband of Demeterie. Parts of Clyde also inhabit Aibileen’s husband also named Clyde in the novel, and Connor, the man who leaves Constantine to care for the near white Lulabelle alone.

Whether Stockett realized that by pairing most of her black maids with mates like this, she was further falling into stereotype is unknown. But something tells me if she had no inkling prior to the book’s publication, she does now.

To be continued . . .

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