When the character of Mammy from Gone With the Wind is brought up, or performers such as Al Jolson and Stepin Fetchit, and the popular old radio program Amos ‘n Andy, most readily admit these depictions are stereotypes. In the case of Amos ‘n Andy, the radio show veered into bad parody. Yet many readers miss just how Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, is at times, also a parody.
It’s important to know the definition of parody and satire:
Parody: 1. a literary or musical work in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule
2. a feeble or ridiculous imitation
Synonyms: caricature, send-up, spoof, travesty
Satire: 1. a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn.
2. trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly
Definitions per Webster Meridian Dictionary
Quips from Aibileen and Constantine compared with Uncle Remus:
And Miss Skeeter asking don’t I want to change things, like changing Jackson, Mississippi, gone be like changing a lightbulb. – Aibileen (Pg 24)
And Miss Leefolt come home with her hair all teased up. She got a permanent and she smell like pneumonia (Pg 94 ) – Aibileen
How his foot fell asleep and he say it tickle. I told him that was just his foot snoring. And how I told him don’t drink coffee or he gone turn colored. He say he still ain’t drunk a cup of coffee and he twenty-one years old. It’s always nice to see the kids grown up fine. (Pg 91) Aibileen
My work shoes so thin, look like they starving to death (Pg 16) Aibileen
Shame ain’t black, like dirt, like I always thought it was. Shame be the color of a new white uniform your mother ironed all night to pay for, white without a smudge or a speck a work-dirt on it. (Pg 151) Aibileen
“Ugly live up on the inside. Ugly be a hurtful, mean person. Is you one a them peoples?” (Pg 62) Constantine
“Every morning, until you dead in the ground, you gone have to make this decision. You gone have to ask yourself, Am I gone believe what them fools say about me today?” (Pg 63) Constantine
We start calling his daddy Crisco cause you can’t fancy up a man done run off on his family. Plus he the greasiest no-count you ever known (Pg 5) Aibileen
Uncle Remus from Disney’s Song of the South:
Uncle Remus: “You can’t run away from trouble. There ain’t no place that far. “
Uncle Remus: “Now, let’s see now. Where is we figurin’ on goin’? How can we be goin’ someplace if we don’t know where we’s goin’?”
Uncle Remus: “. . . them who can’t learn from a tale about critters, just ain’t got the ears tuned for listenin’. “
Uncle Remus: “There’s other ways o’ learnin’ ’bout the behind feet of a mule than gettin’ kicked by ‘em. . . ”
Stockett doesn’t know when to quit, making her primary black maids lapse into bad parody, something she doesn’t do with Skeeter, Hilly or Elizabeth, or any of the other main white characters. Here’s Minny’s turn at trying to be funny compared with Lincoln Osirus, a character who was supposed to be over the top:
“Let’s see, I put the green beans in first, then I go on and get the pork chops going cause , mmm-mmm, I like my chops hot out the pan, you know.” (Minny Jackson, Pg 166 of The Help)
“You know back before the war broke out I was a saucier in San Antone. I bet I could collar up some of them greens, yeah, some crawfish out the paddy. . .” (Lincoln Osirus, from the comedy Tropic Thunder)
Minny’s the maid with the fastest mouth in the south, as well as the best cook in Hinds County. The second quote is from the satirical comedy Topic Thunder, where Robert Downey Jr. plays Australian actor Kirk Lazarus, who then plays a black man named Lincoln Osirus.
Most movie goers knew before buying a ticket to see Tropic Thunder that the comedy made fun of just about every movie trope and racial group. Downey’s performance was so absurd and comical, that he was well deserving of an Oscar nomination.
The key to why Downey’s performance wasn’t soundly dismissed as an offensive stereotype, was that the movie skewered all the characters. Each one was amusingly off. Downey’s character was a five time Oscar winning actor who had enough of an ego to believe he could “inhabit” a black man by undergoing a controversial operation to change him into one, making it all the more wacky.
So what’s Kathryn Stockett’s excuse? Since The Help is neither a satire or a comedy, why does the author simply parody the black culture?
Stockett admits to an interviewer that she intentionally added humor to the book. The problem is, that’s exactly the role that African Americans were forced into during slavery and segregation. Here’s a quote from the author, one of several where Stockett reveals that adding humor was intentional:
Interview with Boof of The Book Whisperer
Boof: I found the book laugh-out-loud in places, particularly where Minny was concerned: was this deliberate from the start or did Minny’s humour develop during the writing process? Did you know you were funny before you started write?
Kathryn: Oh gosh, I’m not funny at all. I don’t like writing too much trauma. I want to be entertained myself as well as the readers; I can’t stand too much trauma. I think the book needed some humour.
As proof of Stockett being true to her word, here’s an excerpt of Stockett adding “humor” using one of her favorite foils, Minny Jackson. Here’s Minny again getting excited about food, among other things:
“Can’t have no proper sandwich on no raw bread. And this afternoon I’ll make one a Minny’s famous caramel cakes. And next week we gone do you a fried catfish. . .” (Minny, Pg 140)
…she is the laziest woman I’ve ever seen. Including my sister Doreena who never lifted a royal finger growing up because she had the heart defect that we later found out was a fly on the X-ray machine (Minny, Pg 48)
I sigh. Seventy-two more hours and I’m a free woman. Maybe fired, maybe dead after Leroy finds out, but free. (Minny, Pg 135)
As that last quip illustrates, Minny Jackson is an abused woman. But that matters not, since she’s also the bossy maid stereotype. And since she was created to provide laughs, for some readers that’s exactly what she does well. But if Minny had been a white character, would many readers be so quick to dismiss the domestic violence not only inflicted upon her, but her children?
Truly, I don’t believe so. Which is also an example of the epic fail of the novel. Because I’ve yet to read in any review of the book or blog discussing the novel that the abuse Minny suffers resonates with readers. And that’s very troubling. And also telling.
Take for example, this scene where Minny has just spent the night being terrorized by Leroy. She doesn’t want to tell Celia Foote about the cut on her forehead, the one she received when Leroy threw a sugarbowl at her head. There’s no excuse for his actions, especially as Minny states I mean, when he’s drinking the Thunderbird, it’s one thing, but . . .oh. The shame is so heavy I think it might pull me to the floor. Leroy, he wasn’t on the Thunderbird this time. This time he beat me stone cold-sober. (Pg 304)
A little further on Minny recalls that Leroy even beat her with his hand, and that he got pure pleasure out of it. Inexplicably, instead of staying on this issue Stockett inserts the pervert scene, where a naked white male is outside jacking off by the azaleas. With Minny’s trauma as an abused woman left behind, Stockett has Minny morph into a superheroine, ready, willing and able to “protect” her employer, advising Celia to “Stand back, Miss Celia . . . lock the door, keep it locked.” (Pg 306)
I’ve yet to hear of a case where a woman suffering from years of domestic violence confronts another man with a knife, which is what Stockett has Minny do. Readers somehow miss how far fetched this is. But what’s worse, Stockett plays Minny’s life and death struggle for cheap laughs. In this next excerpt, it’s important to remember that Minny is pregnant with her sixth child. And if anything happens to her, her five other children will be left at the mercy of their abusive father. It also puts me in mind of Mammy from Gone With the Wind taking it upon herself to shoo away all the riff-raff as Miss Scarlett strolls down the street. To make matters worse, Stockett has Minny pick up a knife, a known stereotype during segregation that claimed knives were the weapon of choice by African Americans. From the novel, Minny goes after the naked pervert:
“I got me a knife!” I holler. I take some more steps and he does too. When I get seven or eight feet from him, I’m panting. We both stare.
“Why, you’re a fat nigger,” he calls in a strange, high voice and gives himself a long stroke.
I take a deep breath. And then I rush forward and swing with the broom. Whoosh! I’ve missed him by inches and he dances away. I lunge again and the man runs toward the house. He heads straight for the back door, where Miss Celia’s face is in the window.
“Nigger can’t catch me! Nigger too fast to run!”
He makes it to the steps and I panic that he’s going to try and bust down the door, but then he flips around and runs along the sideyard, holding that gigantic flopping po’ boy in his hand.
“You get out a here!” I scream after him, feeling a sharp pain, knowing my cut’s ripping wider.
I rush him hard from the bushes to the pool, heaving and panting. . .
“Have a little pecker pie nigger? Come on, get you some pecker pie!”
I dive around him back to the middle of the yard, but the man is too tall and too fast and I’m getting slower. My swings are flying wild and soon I’m hardly even jogging. I stop, lean over, breathing hard. . .I look down and the knife – it is gone.
As soon as I look back up, whaaam! I stagger. The ringing comes harsh and loud, making me totter. I cover my ear but the ringing gets louder. He’s punched me on the same side as the cut.
He comes closer and I close my eyes, knowing what’s about to happen to me, knowing I’ve got to move away but I can’t. Where is the knife? Does he have the knife? The ringings like a nightmare. (Pg 307)
Long story short, Celia uses a poker to beat the man unconscious.
What I also got out of this scene, is that being “large” or “fat” is a negative when trying to chase someone, even though Stockett attempts to make it seem like the very best domestics can only come in one variety: Large and dark, like Constantine, Aibileen and Minny. And the scene also transforms brash talking Minny, the one maid who claimed she’d have told Miss Scarlett from Gone With The Wind where to stick her curtains as all bluff. Because Minny’s actions are not only a 360 degree turn, but Stockett takes the one black maid who was supposed to have attitude and has her competing with Aibileen for the biggest Uncle Tom impression in the novel.
For many readers, Minny is a well liked character for the perceived humor she brings, and that may be partly why her abuse storyline doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Because for a woman who’s had over fifteen years of being Leroy’s punching bag, Minny behaves contrary to all known medical data on women who’ve been in a continuous violent relationship. But I also believe there’s another reason Minny’s abuse story doesn’t jell. Because there’s still the misguided stereotype that somehow violence doesn’t affect African Americans the way it does other cultures. Stockett inadvertently insinuates this in the book, by having Minny so jovial and able to go about her daily life, even though she carries the physical scars of Leroy’s abuse. While writing in the first person, Stockett concentrates more on how ashamed Minny is than of her frayed emotional state. Perhaps Minny doesn’t warrant much sympathy because she comes across as part bully and part failed stand up comic far too many times in the book.
Per the novel (Aibileen is the narrator):
I spot Minny in the back center seat. Minny short and big, got shiny black curls. She setting with her legs splayed, her thick arms crossed. She seventeen years younger than I am. Minny could probably lift this bus up over her head if she wanted to. Old lady like me’s lucky to have her as a friend.
“. . .so I said, Miss Walters, the world don’t want a see your naked white behind any more than they want a see my black one. Now, get in this house and put your underpants and some clothes on.”
“On her front porch? Naked?” Kiki Brown ask.
“Her behind hanging to her knees.”
The bus is laughing and chuckling and shaking they heads.
“Law, that woman crazy,” Kiki say. “I don’t know how you always seem to get the crazy ones, Minny.”
“Oh, like your Miss Patterson ain’t?” Minny say to Kiki. “Shoot. she call the roll a the crazy lady club.” The whole bus be laughing now cause Minny don’t like nobody talking bad about her white lady except herself. That’s her job and she own the rights. (Pg 13)
I have to challenge Stockett’s treatment of this scene. For one, Stockett appears to forget this was Jackson, Mississippi during the early 60s. A black maid being that loud on a bus would have either been thrown off or been arrested.
This is yet another example of the author playing fast and loose with not only her characters, but the timeperiod. Here’s what she states regarding why she did the scene this way. Note the items I’ve bolded:
Oprah Radio host Nate Berkus (no transcript available)
“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.”
Now, just how would African Americans be able to talk freely about their white employers? The bus drivers in Jackson, Mississippi were still all white. And white passengers still took the front seats, because while federal law decreed segregated buses outlawed, apparently Mississippi never got the order. But while Stockett ignores these rather important facts, the scene puts me in mind of an episode of Amos ‘n Andy. The dialect is so thick, if not for the names designating the speaker, each person sounds the same. What Stocket has written is a parody of how she believes blacks behave.
And sadly, just as many devotees of the old radio and TV show Amos ‘n Andy swear that show was entertaining and spot on with its portrayal of African Americans, so too do those lauding Stockett’s take on blacks during the 1960s.
As I stated, The Help reminds me of Amos ‘n Andy. Because Stockett goes so far overboard with the heavy dialect, yet makes the decision (either she did or her editors) that her white southern characters needed to read as if they resided in the north. Stockett’s answer from another interview confirms what I already suspected:
Interview with Teresa Weaver of Atlanta Magazine
“Some critics have had trouble with the African American dialect in The Help. In hindsight, would you have done anything differently?
‘I wouldn’t know how to write it differently. It’s funny when you’re surrounded by people who think something is normal, and then you go out and realize that everyone has their own version of normal. All I can say is, that’s how I remember it now in my mind. The dialect plays back like a tape recorder. My mother and stepmother speak very properly. I really enjoyed putting two very different voices on the page together. I don’t think I’d be capable of writing it any differently.’ “
It seems even under the guidance of a mother and stepmother who spoke “very properly” it’s interesting how Stockett’s own southern accent was heard by two interviewers:
Interview with Jessamy Calkin of the UK site The Telegraph
“She talks like a Southern belle, though it’s probably the English concept of a Southern belle; ‘Would y’all care for something to sip on?’ she asks. She serves tea and cake while telling me about when she attended ‘culinary school’, caressing the words in her high sing-song voice.”
Interview with Boof of The Book Whisperer
“Kathryn was lovely! So softly spoken with the cutest southern drawl.”
It’s my contention that not only does Stockett truly think southern blacks and whites speak differently, but that blacks and whites are different. Her “I really enjoyed putting two very different voices on the page together. I don’t think I’d be capable of writing it any different” was the most direct statement the author has given regarding “dialect-gate”. Especially since in her earlier interviews the author stuck to how she only wrote it as she remembered hearing it (apparently Stockett was able to recall with some clarity how southern blacks sounded, particularly Demetrie, who died when the author was sixteen. Yet somehow she doesn’t recall that she also has a southern accent, as well as most who reside in the south).
I guess it wouldn’t do for the author to just admit that as a college graduate of English and Creative writing, she was simply doing what others have done. As I’ve noted in previous blog posts, Stockett was following a trend of many white authors. From Edna Ferber (Showboat) to Fannie Hurst (Imitation of Life) to Margaret Mitchell (Gone With The Wind), there’s been a habit through the years of writing black characters (especially those dark complexioned) with a broad southern dialect. Yet the white characters, epecially those who also reside in the south don’t have one. The only black characters who avoid this fate in The Help are the ones closer to white (Lulabelle, Yule May, and Gretchen). I cover in depth why I believe the whites in the novel are stripped of their southern dialect in this post:
Minny is simply another caricature. The sassy, back talking domestic who doles out advice that’s at times biting, and at times comic zingers. In addition to the Amos ‘n Andy dialect Stockett saddles her main black characters with, a big part of the problem is their dialogue. Far too often they just sound stupid. Sorry, I have to call it as I see it. There’s nothing remotely “intelligent” about Aibileen, Constantine or Minny.
“You gone be a brain surgeon! Top a the house mean the head.” (Pg 63) – Constantine’s reply to Skeeter
“Cat got on the porch this morning, bout gave me a cadillac arrest thinking it was Mister Johnny.” Minny (Pg 48)
We start calling his daddy Crisco cause you can’t fancy up a man done run off on his family. Plus he the greatest no-count you ever known. (Pg 5)
Here’s Skeeter talking to Constantine:
“How tall are you, Constantine?” I asked, unable to hide my tears.
Constantine narrowed her eyes at me. “How tall is you?”
“Five-eleven,” I cried. “I’m already taller than the boys’ basketball coach.”
“Well, I’m five-thirteen, so quit feeling sorry for yourself.”
Constantine’s the only woman I’ve ever had to look up to, to look her straight in the eye. (Skeeter recalling Constantine, Pg 65)
In this pseudo Constantine helps Skeeter feel better about herself moment, Stockett just has to inject her own brand of humor, again at the expense of the black character. And she has to let the reader know that Constantine doesn’t know there’s no such thing as someone being five feet, thirteen inches. Stockett uses this approach several times in the novel. When Skeeter asks Aibileen how many months away January is, Aibileen replies that it’s “pages” away on the calendar, as if she doesn’t compute that months and pages are totally different. Leroy, the villainous brute of a husband that Minny’s stuck with, gives this idiotic closing statement when interrogating a pregnant Minny:
Leroy gets up and flings the back door open again. “It’s hot as hell in here!” He comes to the stove where I’m standing. “What’s wrong with you?” he asks, about an inch from my face.
“Nothing,” I say and move back a little. Usually he doesn’t mess with me when I’m pregnant. But he moves closer. He squeezes my arm hard.
“What’d you do this time?”
“I-I didn’t do nothing,” I say. “I’m just tired.”
He tightens his grip on my arm. It’s starting to burn. “You don’t get tired. Not till the tenth month.” (Pg 406 )
Stockett uses a heavy handed approach to show that not only are her main black characters “different” in that they may be obedient and loyal, but they need someone with a brain to lead them, which of course, is Skeeter.
So, factoring in the needless broad dialect and dialogue that’s lacking in common sense, in my mindThe Help is no different in it’s skewed parody of African Americans than Amos’n Andy.
George ‘Kingfish’ Stevens: [accepting an award from his lodge brothers] Thank you, brothers; and, in the words of that great American poet Ralph Walnut Emerson, you all has my infernal gratitude.
George ‘Kingfish’ Stevens: You see, Andy; the first thing you need to fly is excellent eyesight. Now, how much is 10 plus 10?
[writes problem on the board]
Andrew Hogg Brown: 20.
George ‘Kingfish’ Stevens: Ok; now, what is ten times 2?
Andrew Hogg Brown: 20.
George ‘Kingfish’ Stevens: Oh, you see Andy; you has twenty-twenty vision.
Sapphire’s Mama: George, why do you need a clock? You ain’t got nowhere to go and there ain’t nobody gonna care if you get there.
Again, it has to be pointed out that Amos ‘n Andy was billed as a comedy. Of course it was also an offensive parody, until finally with enough protests the show was taken off the air in the 1960s, though it still lives on in DVDs. Unfortunately for the African American actors, they could find no work after the show was canceled because they were typecast. I found this scan from google books with an interesting article in Ebony magazine that reveals what happened to the television actors who brought Amos ‘n Andy to the small screen:
Short URL link: http://alturl.com/shkqw
Excerpt from Ebony Magazine article:
“Gosden, who on radio played both the role of Amos and the Kingfish, was soon asked not to come on the set after a run-in with Spencer Williams and his characterization of Andy. And he remained away during the entire filming of the TV series.
“We couldn’t get together on this use of dialect,” Williams explained. “He wanted me to say ‘dis here and dat dere’ and I wasn’t going to do it. He said he ‘ought to know how Amos ‘n Andy should talk,” but I told him Negroes didn’t want to see Negroes on TV talking that way. The I told him I ought to know how Negroes talk. After all, I’ve been one all my life. He never came back on the set.”
Page 70, Article by Edward T. Clayton in Ebony Magazine
Getting back to more modern entertainment, I believe what worked in Tropic Thunder’s favor was the addition of Brandon T. Jackson. Brandon’s character was used to remind Kirk Lazarus AKA Lincoln Osirus that he was not just a white actor playing a black man, but that he was also doing a bad job of it.
Kirk Lazarus: All right fellas, we’re gonna make camp, rest up. Y’all might be in for a treat. You know back before the war broke out I was a saucier in San Antone. I bet I could collar up some of them greens, yeah, some crawfish out the paddy, yo’! Ha! I’m makin’ some crabapples for dessert now, yo! Hell yeah, ha!
Alpa Chino: [mocking Kirk] Hell yeah! Ha! That’s how we all talk? We all talk like dis, “suh”? Yes suh, ha! Yeah mmm-hmm get some crawfish, and some ribs, ha! Ye-aah. You’re Australian! Be Australian! Excuse me, Kangaroo Jack![hops away like a kangaroo]
Kirk Lazarus: [confused] I get excited about my food, man.
More dialogue from Lincoln Osiris:
“I know what dude I am. I’m the dude playin’ the dude, disguised as another dude!”
“Man, I don’t drop character ’till I done the DVD commentary.”
“You more shredded than a Julienne salad, man.”
“Want some? Get Some!”
“I don’t read the script, the script reads me.”
“What scene? The scene is about emotionality. Where is it? Now it’s time to flip the script! We’ll get to Chinese New Year waitin’ for my man to cry.”
“I’m a lead farmer, mothafucka!”
“We’re tired of being your trail donkeys! Wandering around the jungle like you some kinda one man GPS! We lost man! We fucking lost! Tell him McKlutsky! Tell him what time it is!”
Tropic Thunder was very broad take on not just an African American soldier, but a Jewish profane power broker named Les Grossman, played by Tom Cruise. A coked up movie star played by Jack Black, the swaggering, boastful rapper who loves the “Boot-tay” (and who turns out to be gay) played by Brandon T. Jackson.
Now, here are a few more stereotypical quips from The Help:
That night after supper, me and that cockroach stare each other down across the kitchen floor. He big, inch, inch an a half. He black. Blacker than me. Aibileen’s battle of wills with a cockroach (Pg 189)
“Just pour some pneumonia in that garbage”…I jot it down, amending it to ammonia (Pg 84) – Skeeter correcting what Aibileen has told her (this is the second time Aibileen, who’s supposed to be well read, uses “pneumonia” for ammonia).
“You see that?” Farina said to me. “That pink lady you work for, drunk as an Injun on payday.” (Pg 333)
Plenty of black men leave their families behind like trash in a dump, but it’s not something the colored woman do. We’ve got kids to think about – Minny Jackson (Pg 311)
I might as well be Little Stevie Wonder I am so blinded by that dress – Minny Jackson (Pg 317)
“I told Shirley Boon her ass won’t fit on no stool at Woolworth’s anyway.” Minny (Pg 217)
“Say maybe she getting mal-nutritious.” Aibileen to Minny, (Pg 14)
“That ugly white fool” Minny (Pg 292)
“I got me a knife!” Minny (Pg 307)
In The Help, Stocket attempts to channel Amos ‘n Andy with her own comedy team of Aibileen and Minny, especially when they attend church. From page Pg 126-127 of the novel:
“. . . Oh Lord, hide the food.”
Hoity-toity Bertrina Bessemer waddles toward us. She leans over the pew in front of us, smiling with a big, tacky blue-bird hat on. Betrina, she’s the one who called Aibileen a fool for all those years. . .
Aibileen smiles, nods. Bertrina waddles off to her pew.
“Maybe you ought to be a little pickier who you pray for.” I say.
“Aw, I ain’t mad at her no more, says Aibileen. “And look a there, she done lost some weight.”
“She telling everybody she lost forty pounds, ” I say.
“Lord a mercy.”
“Only got two hundred more to go.”
Aibileen tries not to smile, acts like she’s waving away the lemon smell.
In yet another attempt to inject humor where it doesn’t belong, Stockett has Saint Aibileen making this uncalled for joke about her good friend Minny:
“Minny, do you and Leroy ever talk about ever talk about civil rights?” Miss Skeeter ask. “When he comes home from work?”
And Aibileen thinks this about her “Best” friend: Minny had that big bruise on her arm cause that’s what Leroy do when he come home from work. He push her around.
As Stockett again tries to turn Aibileen into a comical figure, she has her make other unflattering observations about Minny, her closest friend:
She roll her eyes and stick her tongue out like I handed her a plate a dog biscuits. “I knew you was getting senile,” she say. Aibileen, noting Minny’s canine like expression before she answers. (Pg 430)
As usual, Minny’s house be like a chicken coop on fire. Minny be hollering, things be flinging around, all the kids squawking. I see the first hint a Minny’s belly under her dress and I’m grateful she finally showing. Leroy, he don’t hit Minny when she pregnant. And Minny know this so I spec they’s gone be a lot more babies after this one. (Pg 396)
One of the most offensive scenes in the novel deals with Aibileen and Minny’s backwards discussion on Saint Aibileen’s ability to call down a venereal disease on the woman who ran off with her husband Clyde. Stockett tries and fails imho to play it for laughs, since it’s not a funny subject or one that even should have been broached with the black characters, had Stockett really done her research on the time period:
“Week after Clyde left you, I heard that Cocoa wake up to her cootchie spoilt like a rotten oyster. Didn’t get better for three months. Bertrina, she good friends with Cocoa. She know your prayer works.”
My mouth pop open. Why she never tell me this before? “You saying people think I got the black magic?”
“I knew it make you worry if I told you. They think you got a better connection than most. We all on a party line to God, but you, you setting right in his ear.” (Pg 24)
That’s right. Aibileen has the power, via her prayers to God to call down a venereal disease on Cocoa. But it’s important that readers know blacks having “diseases” was a common negative slur during segregation. One that spread like wildfire, and was one of the reasons many whites didn’t want integration.
To make matters worse, Stockett adds in the demeaning notion that Aibileen wonders if people think she did it via black magic. Because we all know Christianity and black magic must go hand in hand. NOT. Stockett’s joke went terribly wrong. But one that the author apparently feels is so funny, she read Minny’s part, fake “black” dialect and all while on a book tour. The post with screen shots and a link to the You Tube video footage can be found here:
I’ll end this blog post with a quote from Kathryn Stockett herself, which again highlights just how disconnected the author seems to be from her own creation:
Interview with Michele Norris of National Public Radio
“But, you know, I have heard chatter that, you know, I told too much, that I didn’t represent all the love that was shared between the black domestics and the white families, and I have to agree with that. But that’s a reaction I mostly hear out of white people. I haven’t heard African-Americans complain that I didn’t portray how much love was out there between the blacks and the whites. “
Hey Kathryn, here’s one African American complaining. And there’s more coming. I call them the “silent minority” the ones who initially refused to read the book, but when they finally get around to it… oh boy.
I pity the educator who just loves this book, decides to assign it to say, a high school class, and has to try to explain themselves to an angry parent (two words “spoilt cootchie”).
What may be the biggest travesty is the “love” Stockett believes she’s captured in the book, which is simply having Aibileen, Minny and Constantine obsessing over Mae Mobley, Celia, and Skeeter respectively. From what I read, save for Mae Mobley telling Aibileen that she loves her, none of the adult white characters in the book show “love” to the black characters (okay, for argument’s sake I’ll throw in Lou Anne, since she did help out Louvenia and Robert, and told Skeeter that Louvenia was the only reason she was able to get out of bed in the morning). No, I read bemused tolerance. And I also got that the employers depended on their black domestics.
But there’s scarcely any “love” to be found between the black and white characters of this book.
And Skeeter doesn’t count.
Because by novel’s end, the reader doesn’t know if Skeeter truly believes that blacks are equal to whites or that segregation is wrong. All the reader knows is that Skeeter wanted to get the hell out of Jackson and finally does. Aibileen and Skeeter’s relationship was one sided, much like Constantine and Skeeter’s relationship. In their devoid of any real emotion parting scene, Stockett does have Aibileen crowing about how she thinks Skeeter and her are like family now, while Skeeter acts like she’s got a stick up her ass. Aibileen reaches out to hug Skeeter, compliments her on her hair, gifts her with a signed copy of their novel by the church congregation . . . In short, it’s just one more scene where Stockett has Aibileen in full Uncle Tom mode, fussing and beaming over Miss Skeeter, while Skeeter doesn’t even see fit to gift Aibileen with her old typewriter (yes, I know about the job at the paper. But since Aibileen already earned it by giving Skeeter housekeeping tips, it was the least she could do). Only I wonder how she thinks Aibileen’s going to hand over a decent housekeeping column to Mr. Golden? On note paper? And will Aibileen even be able to walk in the front door of the paper to ask for the man? (watch the movie change this).
How Aibileen could believe Skeeter is her “friend” while never once being invited over to her home or acknowledged publicly as someone Skeeter considered a friend, is probably the most unintentionally comedic moment of the novel.
I’d meant to include the difference Stockett made in Mae Mobley and Kindra (Minny’s daughter) in this post, but I think instead it will be in its own blog post. I’m not sure how the editor’s missed Kindra being a victim of abuse, by both her mother and father. Unfortunately, Stockett extended her overwhelming need to have comedic characters even among the children, which meant Kindra was drafted to be the stereotypical little black kid with “attitude”.
Next Blog post: Caricature of a child: Comparing Mae Mobley and Kindra