Especially when a writer and a publisher claim their novel, THE HELP is about three women, yet within the pages I’m treated to the same old same old. So this post is going directly to what was given to the “chosen one” Skeeter, and eliminated or not even given a thought to including with Aibileen and Minny. It’s important, since there’s so much confusion over what all the criticism is about.
And it’s also for the countless minority women reading novels who’ve been relegated to the sidelines for far too long and in far too many movies, TV shows and popular novels (the shoulder to cry on, the side kick, the friend with the best comic lines and colorful “attittude”) that they’ve become accustomed to it.
So much so, that they don’t expect anything more.
On this blog I’ve listed and gone into detail what the book lacked and got wrong. It’s not just the dialect that Stockett got wrong, people.
You see, this is what Stockett let Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan get in terms of dialogue and a relationship:
This is what Skeeter got:
“What do you want?”
“I want to be a writer,” I said. “A journalist. Maybe a novelist. Maybe both.”
He lifted his chin and looked at me then, right in the eye.
“I like that, he said, and then he just kept staring. “I’ve been thinking about you. You’re smart, you’re pretty, you’re-” – he smiled- “tall.”
We ate strawberry soufflés and had one glass of Chablis apiece. He talked about how to tell if there’s oil underneath a cotton field and I talked about how the receptionist and I were the only females working for the paper.
“I hope you write something really good. Something you believe in.”
“Thank you. I. . .hope so too.” I don’t say anything about Aibileen or Missus Stein (Pg 171)
This is what Aibileen got:
Before I get around to it, they’s a knock on the back door. I open it to see one a the workmen standing there. He real old. Got overalls on over a white collar shirt.
“Hidee, ma’am. Trouble you for some water?” he ask. I don’t recognize him. Must live somewhere south a town.
“Sho-nuff,” I say.
I go get a paper cup from the cupboard. It’s got happy birthday ballons on it from when Mae Mobley turn two. I know Miss Leefolt don’t want me giving him one a the glasses.
He drink it in one long swallow and hand me the cup back. His face be real tired. Kind a lonesome in the eyes.
“How y’all coming along?” I ask.
“It’s work,” he say. “Still ain’t no water to it. Reckon we run a pipe out yonder from the road.”
“Other fella need a drink?” I ask.
“Be might nice.” He nod and I go get his friend a little funny-looking cup too, fill it up from the sink.
He don’t take it to his partner right away.”
“Beg a pardon, he say, “but where. . .” He stand there a minute, look down at his feet. “Where might I go make water?”
He look up and I look at him and for a minute we just be looking.
. . .this fella, he a old man. Got heavy wrinkled hands. Seventy years a worry done put so many lines in his face, he like a roadmap.
“I spec you gone have to go in the bushes. back a the house.” I hear myself say, but I wish it weren’t me. “Dog’s back there, but he won’t bother you.” (Pg 20)
And this is what Minny got:
At five thirty that morning, Leroy falls into bed next to me. I wake up to the squawk of frame and the stench of the liquor. I grit my teeth, praying he doesn’t try to start a fight. ..
Leroy flops around and tosses and turns, never mind his pregnant wife’s trying to sleep. When the fool finally gets settled, I hear his whisper.
“What’s the big secret Minny?”
I can feel him watching me, feel his liquor breath on my shoulder. I don’t move.
“You know I’ll find out,” he hisses. “I always do.”
In about ten seconds, his breathing slows to almost dead and he throws his hand across me. Thank you for this baby. I pray. Because that’s the only thing that saved me, this baby in my belly. And that is the ugly truth. (Pg 412)
Still don’t see where the problem lies?
Okay, a few more examples. And remember, this is supposed to be about THREE women with DISTINCT voices. Three women with three different lives. Only there was no way I could relate to Minny or Aibileen. All I was manipulated to feel was pity that these women were being created not out of love, but as a means to an end. In order to tell the story of “how incredibly risky it was for Skeeter” per Kathryn Stockett’s own words on tour.
Skeeter got this:
“That is the funniest damn looking thing I have ever seen,” he says.
I step away from him. “Hilly can take you,” I say. “Hilly will drive you.”
He turns and focuses on me for what, I’m pretty sure, is the first time all night.
After several long moments of standing there being looked at, my eyes fill with tears. I’m just so tired.
“Ah, shit,” he says and his body loosens. “Look, I told Hilly I wasn’t ready for any damn date.”
“Don’t. . .I say, backing away from him, and I head back to the house. (Pg 120)
Any man or woman ever rejected could feel for Skeeter.
But wait, there’s more:
“When I saw your face, out there by the truck. . .I’m not that guy. I’m really not such a jerk. . .”
“I came by to see if you’d like to come downtown with me for supper. We could talk,” he says and stands up. “We could. . .I don’t know, listen to each other this time.”
I stand there, shocked. His eyes are blue and clear and fixed on me like my answer might really mean something to him. I take in a deep breath, about to say yes-I mean, why would I of all people refuse –and he bites his bottom lip, waiting. (Pg 169)
But Skeeter does turn him down
“I’m sorry, he says, the door to his car open. “That’s what I came to say and, well, I guess I said it.”
Stuart gets in his car and his door clicks shut. He props his arm up so his elbow pokes through the open window. But he keeps his eyes turned down.
“Just give me a minute,” I holler out to him. “Let me get my sweater.” (Pg 169)
You see, in between finding a job, writing the maids stories in secret and a mother stricken with cancer…oh, and solving the mystery of why Constantine left, Skeeter still has time for romance.
If, as Kathryn Stockett so eloquently put it at the book’s end:
“Wasn’t that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Nothing much separates us. Not nearly as much as I thought.”
“I was afraid I would fail to describe a relationship that was so intensely influential in my life, so loving, so grossly stereotyped in American history and literature.”
Why was it that the only capacity she could view Aibileen and Minny and Constantine in were as domestics, as black caricatures with cackling humor best left to days gone by, and not as women?
This is what Aibileen was reduced to:
I got my prayer book out so I can write some things down. I concentrate on Mae Mobley, try to keep my mind off Miss Hilly. Show me how to teach Baby Girl to be kind, to love herself; to love others, while I got time with her. . . (Pg 192)
Ever afternoon, me and Baby Girl set in the rocking chair before her nap. Ever afternoon, I tell her, You kind, you smart, you important. But she growing up and I know, soon them words ain’t gone be enough. (Pg 199)
And this is the sum of the lack of parts for Minny:
Minny got that lonesome look in her eyes. “I wish Leroy was home,” she whisper. I doubt if them words ever been said in this house before. (Pg 196)
I EXPECTED MORE
Not Kinder, Küche, Kirche-children, kitchen, church, originally a German ideology that many American women were relegated back to after working in factories during World War II. Out of necessity, women put on pants and hardhats, and they became the breadwinner while men went off to war. But once the war was over, it was back to being the good little woman.
And for African Americans, both male and female, especially those who had worked and fought in some capacity for the armed services, well they returned home and were limited in their job choices.
So called “Negro” jobs were available for them. Like being maids, chauffeurs, shoe shine boys, waiters, dishwashers, janitors, and the like.
For Kathryn Stockett and her editors, and for all the readers who just don’t see what all the fuss is about, within the pages of The Help, lies the missing ingredient.
In Kathryn Stockett’s book, the black characters show love, but get little for their efforts in return.
In Fannie Hurst’s novel Imitation of Life, the black maid Delilah dotes on Bea and Jessie, and her own daughter. Delilah has no life other than her church, cooking in the kitchen and the people she looks after. Bea has no such limitations though.
Yet Peola rejects her mother.
That novel was published in 1933. In 2009, The Help offers more of the same.
In The Help, Aibileen dotes on Mae Mobley, refusing to seek companionship out of some far fetched rationale by Stockett, just so she doesn’t have to truly inhabit an African American woman. God knows it would have probably been hard for her to write a scene where a black woman and a black man have a conversation along the lines of what Stuart and Skeeter did over dinner. No, it’s just not done.
Because black women like gifts of Okra (What Leroy gifted Minny with)
So after all these years, have some writers learned nothing?
It’s not enough to create a black character, slap them with hokey, countrified dialect, put them in a kitchen, have them go to church and them claim it’s a “homage”.
Oh wait. Guess you can get away with it if enough reviewers claim it’s “authentic”.
Yep, I do agree with Head Butler.com reviewer Jesse Kornbluth in a few of the things he stated (but I oppose his choice of the word “bitch” and “for smart African American readers like you). To quote Mr. Kornbluth:
1) The book was written for whites.
2) She took a huge chance writing “black” talk? Not really. Blacks were not likely readers.
3) She (kinda) got those white bitches right.
4) Her readers cared less about the blacks (except as victims to pity) than about women (kinda) like themselves.
So…..you nailed it — that is, for smart African-American readers like you.
BUT…..this book did a WORLD OF GOOD.
Because a lot of women who read it had to confront/overcome their own prejudices.
So what am I going on about for those who still don’t see what the problem is?
Hey Kathryn Stockett, I’m talking directly to you. If you’re going to write about women, could you at least TRY to give the minorities the same consideration you do for your own people?
Alright, end of rant and time for a change of direction.
At a time like this, I’m reminded of that rather droll short story by Dorothy Parker
. . .The woman with the pink velvet poppies extended her hand at the length of her arm and held it so for all the world to see, until the Negro took it, shook it, and gave it back to her.
“Oh, how do you do, Mr. Williams,” she said. “Well, how do you do. I’ve just been saying, I’ve enjoyed your singing so awfully much. I’ve been to your concerts, and we have you on the phonograph and everything. Oh, I just enjoy it!” She spoke with great distinctness, moving her lips meticulously, as if in parlance with the deaf.
“I’m so glad,” he said.
“I’m just simply crazy about that ‘Water Boy’ thing you sing,” she said. “Honestly, I can’t get it out of my head. I have my husband nearly crazy, the way I go around humming it all the time. Oh, he looks just as black as the ace of – Well. Tell me, where on earth do you ever get all those songs of yours? How do you ever get hold of them?”
“Why,” he said, “there are so many different –”
“I should think you’d love singing them,” she said. “It must be more fun. All those darling old spirituals – oh, I just love them! Well, what are you doing, now? Are you still keeping up your singing? Why don’t you have another concert, some time?”
“I’m having one the sixteenth of this month,” he said.
“Well, I’ll be there,” she said. “I’ll be there, If I possibly can. You can count on me. Goodness, here comes a whole raft of people to talk to you. You’re just a regular guest of honor! Oh, who’s that girl in white? I’ve seen her some place.”
“That’s Katherine Burke,” said her host.
“Good Heavens,” she said, “is that Katherine Burke? Why she looks entirely different off the stage. I thought she was much better-looking. I had no idea she was so terribly dark. Why, she looks almost like . . . Oh, I think she’s a wonderful actress! Don’t you think she’s a wonderful actress, Mister Williams? Oh, I think she’s marvelous. Don’t you?”
“Yes, I do,” he said.
“Oh, I do, too,” she said. “Just wonderful. Well, goodness, we must give someone else a chance to talk to the guest of honor. Now, don’t forget, Mr. Williams, I’m going to be at that concert if I possibly can. I’ll be there applauding like everything. And if I can’t come, I’m going to tell everybody I know to go, anyway. Don’t you forget!”
“I won’t.” he said. “Thank you so much.”
The host took her arm and piloted her into the next room.
“Oh my dear,” she said. “I nearly died! Honestly, I give you my word, I nearly passed away. Did you hear that terrible break I made? I was just going to say Katherine Burke looked almost like a nigger. I just caught myself in time. Oh, do you think he noticed?”
“I don’t believe so,” said her host.
“Well, thank goodness,” she said, “because I wouldn’t have embarrassed him for anything. Why, he’s awfully nice. Just as nice as he can be. Nice manners, and everything. You know, so many colored people, you give them an inch, and they walk all over you. But he doesn’t try any of that. Well, he’s got more sense, I suppose. He’s really nice. Don’t you think so?”
“Yes,” said her host.
“I liked him,” she said. “I haven’t any feeling at all because he’s a colored man. I felt just as natural as I would with anybody. Talked to him just as naturally, and everything. But honestly, I could hardly keep a straight face. I kept thinking of Burton. Oh, wait till I tell Burton I called him ‘Mister’!”
Excerpt for Dorothy Parker’s short story “Arrangement in Black and White” published on Oct 8, 1926 by the New Yorker Magazine
See the full short story here:
Going back to Stockett’s “It was incredibly risky for Skeeter” quote
Hell, it was “incredibly risky” just to have brown skin in the south.
But let me introduce all y’all to a woman named Claudia Jones.
A woman so “risky” the US deported her.
A black woman.
And a Communist. Who went public with her opinions.
During the 40s.
Now that’s RISKY.
She died alone and penniless in the UK, and is buried in Highgate Cemetery, to the left of Karl Marx.
And the UK honored her with her own stamp.
You can read more about Claudia Jones here:
To be continued. . .