Aibileen’s need to protect Mae Mobley from her constantly unhinged mother, Elizabeth Leefolt, makes her a heroine in the eyes of many readers. But astute as Aibileen is regarding Mae Mobley’s predicament, she’s unable to realize that her good friend Minny is just as unhinged when she deals with her own kids (getting beaten almost daily by your husband would do that to anyone).
What’s also troubling is that Aibileen, a character written to see the good in everyone, manages not to notice the good in her best friend’s children.
Heather, Miss Hilly’s girl, she pretty cute. Heather got dark, shiny curls all over her head and some little freckles, and she real talkative. One thing I got to say about Miss Hilly, she love her children. About every five minutes, she kiss Will on the head. Or she ask Heather, is she having fun? Or come here and give Mama a hug. Always telling her she the most beautiful girl in the world. And Heather love her momma too. She look at Miss Hilly like she looking up at the Statue a Liberty. That kind a love always make me want a cry. Even when it going to Miss Hilly. Cause it make me think about Treeloree, how much he love me. I appreciate a child adoring they mama. (Pg 184)
I’m speaking specifically of Kindra, who gets no nurturing, no “positive affirmations” or even any worthwhile scene where she interacts lovingly with Aibileen or for that matter, her own mother.
It’s easy to dismiss criticism of The Help when focusing solely on the dialect. It’s a lost cause, because there’s an ingrained notion that African Americans, no matter where we reside all speak with a southern accent/dialect in literature. At least that’s what happens to the darker hued characters in Stockett’s novel.
However it’s not as easy to dismiss Stockett’s belief that Medgar Evers was bludgeoned, which somehow made its way into the novel on page 277. And when Stockett earnestly repeats that Evers was bludgeoned in not one, but three known audio interviews. Links can be found on this post:
It seems easy enough for many readers (and reviewers ) to ignore the abuse Minny suffers under Leroy in favor of how “humorous” she is, or how Stockett segregates the maids by color and weight, so that Constantine, Aibileen and Minny, the three dark and overweight maids adhere to the stereotypical happy, hefty domestic, while Lulabelle, Yule May and Gretchen are the closer to white, seething with resentment light skinned, slim and trim girls (who also happen to speak without a southern accent/dialect).
I’ve got several posts regarding Stockett’s elevation of the white males who practiced segregation, while reserving her scorn for the African American males of the novel, even criticizing black males for what she believes is what ails them, while not even touching the subject of what’s wrong with white males. Stockett AKA Minny’s “plenty of black males leave their families behind like trash” was a pretty low thing to write, as if the author had no knowledge of what “plenty of black men” had to contend with during segregation.
What may not be so easy to dismiss however, is how Kathryn Stockett makes a difference in the children in the novel.
At the start of the book Mae Mobley is two years of age. She’s the only child of Elizabeth and Raleigh Leefolt at this point, and Aibileen’s “special baby.”
Aibileen and Mae Mobley share a bond partly because Aibileen recognizes Mae’s mother is unable to provide the nuturing love the child so desperately needs. Aibileen makes it her mission, as she’s done with the other white children she’s looked after to make certain Mae Mobley knows that she is loved.
Kindra Jackson is five years of age when the novel begins. She’s the youngest daughter of Minny Jackson but unlike Mae Mobley, has no one determined to instill in her that she knows she is loved. Not once in the novel does Minny Jackson tell her children that she loves them. And not once does Aibileen, the resident saint of the novel tell Minny’s children that she too loves them.
More on the Mommy and Mammy issues in this novel can be found in this post:
Aibileen is so bent on seeing to it that Mae Mobley is treated with love and care, that she doesn’t see what’s going on right under her nose. That her best friend, a woman who’s been abused and continues to be terrorized by her violent husband Leroy, has turned into an abuser of her own children.
When the reader first meets Mae Mobley, Aibileen gives a gushing biography. One part comedic, one part surrogate mother.
From the novel:
Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August, 1960. A church baby we like to call it. Taking care a white babies, that’s what I do, along with all the cooking and the cleaning. I done raised 17 kids in my lifetime. I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go in the toilet bowl before they mamas even get out a bed in the morning.
But I ain’t never seen a baby yell like Mae Mobley Leefolt. First day I walk in the door, there she be, red-hot and hollering with the colic, fighting that bottle like it’s a rotten turnip. Miss Leefolt, she look terrified a her own child. ‘What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I stop it?’
It? That was my first hint: something is wrong with this situation.
So I took that pink, screaming baby in my arms. Bounced her on my hip to get the gas moving and it didn’t take two minutes fore Baby Girl stopped her crying, got to smiling up at me like she do.
But Miss Leefolt, she don’t pick up her own baby for the rest a the day. I seen plenty a womens get the baby blues after they done birthing. I reckon I thought that’s what it was . . . (Aibileen, Pg 1)
I’m used to working for young couples, but I spec this is the smallest house I ever worked in. It’s just the one storey. Her and Mister Leefolt’s room in the back be a fair size, but Baby Girl’s room be tiny . . . ( Aibileen, Pg 3)
Stockett piles on the cuteness with Mae Mobley, so that the reader feels just how attached Aibileen is to the child.
Soon as I walk in her nursery, Mae Mobley smile at me, reach out her fat little arms.
‘You already up, Baby Girl? Why you didn’t holler for me?’
She laugh, dance a little happy jig waiting on me to get her out. I give her a good hug. I reckon she don’t get too many good hugs like this after I go home.
Ever so often, I come to work and find her bawling in her crib, Miss Leefolt busy on the sewing machine rolling her eyes like it’s a stray cat stuck in the screen door. See, Miss Leefolt, she dress up nice ever day. Always got her make-up on, got a carport, double-door Frigidaire with the built-in icebox. You see her in the Jitney 14 grocery, you never think she go and leave her baby crying in her crib like that. But the help always know.
Today is a good day though. That girl just grins.
I say “Aibileen.”
She say, “Aib-ee.”
I say, “Love.”
She say, “Love.”
I say, “Mae Mobley.”
She say “Aib-ee.” And then she laugh and laugh. She so tickled she talking and I got to say, it’s about time. (Aibileen Pg 5)
Yes, we all get the warm and fuzzies reading how loving Aibileen is to Mae Mobley.
Enter stage left, Elizabeth Leefolt, as Stockett has to lay it on thick regarding how lousy a mother Elizabeth is not much later in the novel:
“Mae Mobley, you know you’re not supposed to climb out of your crib!”
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.
I rush past Miss Leefolt, pick Baby Girl up. . .
I lay Baby Girl on the changing table, try to keep my mad inside. Baby Girl stare up at me while I take off her diaper. Then she reach out her little hand. She touch my mouth real soft.
“Mae Mo been bad, ” she say.
“No, baby, you ain’t been bad, ” I say, smoothing her hair back. “You been good. Real good.” (Pg 15)
Notice the stark difference when the reader is introduced to Kindra (Aibileen is again the narrator here, items in bold are my doing):
I can hear the grip she got on the phone, sound like she trying to crush it in her hand. I hear Kindra holler an I wonder why Minny already home. She usually don’t leave work till four.
“I ain’t done nothing but feed that old woman good food and look after her!”
“Minny, I know you honest. God know you honest.”
Her voice dip down, like bees on a comb. “When I walk into Miss Walters’, Miss Hilly be there and she try to give me twenty dollars. She say, ‘Take it. I know you need it’, and I bout spit in her face. But I didn’t. No sir.” She start making this panting noise, she say, “I did worse.”
“What you did?”
“I ain’t telling. . .
Kindra gets to crying in the background. Minny hang up the phone without even saying goodbye. I don’t know what she talking about a pie. But Law, knowing Minny, it could not have been good. (Pg 21)
Now notice how protective Aibileen is of Mae Mobley. It’s important to remember that not once while on the phone with Minny does she ask what’s wrong with Kindra:
I rush to get her but Miss Leefolt get there first. Her lips is curled back from her teeth in a scary smile. Miss Leefot slap Baby Girl on the back a her bare legs so hard I jump from the sting.
Then Miss Leefolt grab Mae Mobley by the arm, jerk it hard with ever word. “Don’t you touch this phone again, Mae Mobley!” she say. “Aibileen, how many times do I have to tell you to keep her away from me when I am on the phone?”
“I’m sorry,” I say and pick up Mae Mobley, try to hug her to me, but she bawling and her face is red and she fighting me.
“Come on, Baby Girl, it’s all right, everthing-”
Mae Mobley make an ugly face at me and then she rear back and bowp! She wack me right on the ear.
Miss Leefolt point at the door, yell, “Aibileen you both just get out.”
I carry her out the kitchen. I’m so mad at Miss Leefolt, I’m biting my tongue. If the fool would just pay her child some attention, this wouldnt’ happen!” When we make it to Mae Mobley’s room, I set in the rocking chair. She sob on my shoulder and I rub her back, glad she can’t see the mad on my face. I don’t want her to think it’s at her.
“You okay Baby Girl?” I whisper. My ear smarting from her little fist. I’m so glad she hit me instead a her mama cause I don’t known what that woman would do to her. I look down and see read fingermarks on the back a her legs.
“I’m here, baby, Aibee’s here,” I rock and soothe, rock and soothe.
But Baby Girl, she just cry and cry. (Pg 19)
And here’s Minny discussing her own child. Notice the stereotypical way Kindra is described (items in bold are my doing):
“Mama, fix me something to eat. I’m hungry.” That’s what my youngest girl, Kindra, who’s five said to me last night. With a hand on her hip and her foot stuck out.
I have five kids and I take pride that I taught them yes ma’m and please before they could even say cookie.
All except one.
“You ain’t having nothing till supper,” I tell her.
“Why you so mean to me? I hate you,” she yelled and ran out the door.
I set my eyes on the ceiling because that’s a shock I will never get used to, even with four before her. The day your child says she hates you, and every child will go through the phase, it kicks like a foot in the stomach.
But Kindra, Lord. It’s not just a phase I’m seeing. That girl is turning out just like me. (Minny, Pg 51)
Since Kindra is only five, why is she already being labeled? And why doesn’t Aibileen,who’s Minny’s best friend see how stressed Minny is over her youngest? Later on in the novel Aibileen makes her own negative observation on Kindra, which shows her playing favorites with who she lavishes her affection on.
Why would Kathryn Stockett choose to negatively portray the youngest black child in the novel, thus making a clear difference in even the smallest members of her book? Stockett’s unequal, heavy handed approach as the omnipresent narrator is never more evident than here.
And while many readers may not have much sympathy or disagreement with how Stockett does the same thing with the black males of the novel (compared to the white males), The blatant use of Kindra as either a comic caricature or “black kid reeking attitude” while casting Mae Mobley, Ross (called Li’l Man by Aibileen) and Hilly’s children as wee ones who are far more deserving of a “like” button being pushed whenever they appear shows bias once again on the author’s part.
Stockett made up the rules so it’s important to keep in mind that Minny’s children are between a rock and a hard place. Because their father Leroy is cast as a violent, temperamental abuser of his wife, terrorizing Minny and also their children:
Inside I hear Leroy yell, “A Eff?” He won’t touch the kids. He’ll yell, but that’s what fathers are supposed to do. (Minny describing Leroy’s method of keeping his kids in line, Pg 411)
Thank you for this baby, I pray. Because that’s the only thing that saved me, this baby in my belly (Minny relieved at not being the object of Leroy’s fists, Pg 413)
“He throw the kids in the yard and lock me in the bathroom and say he gone light the house on fire with me locked inside!” (Minny’s horror at Leroy’s actions. Leroy is fired from his job because of her involvement in the maids novel, Pg 437)
Not only do the kids have to contend with their father’s moods, but Minny’s sharp tongue and bullyish parenting. But even more strange is Stockett implying that the fault lies with the kids, and not Leroy and Minny. This is contrary to how the author frames the scenes with the white characters parenting their children.
Here’s yet another scene where the Stockett blames the kids, as the reader is reminded of five year old Kindra’s “mouth”:
I’m standing in Miss Celia’s kitchen thinking about last night, what with Kindra and her mouth, Benny and his asthma, my husband Leroy coming home drunk two times last week. (Minny, Pg 51)
At home that night, I get the butter beans simmering, the ham in the skillet.
“Kindra, get everbody in here,” I say to my six year old. “We ready to eat.”
“Suuuuppperrrrr,” Kindra yells, not moving an inch from where she’s standing.
“You go get your daddy the proper way,” I yell. “What I tell you about yelling in my house?”
Kindra rolls her eyes at me like she’s just been asked to do the stupiest thing in the world. She stamps her feet down the hall. “Suuupperrr!”
“Kindra!” (Minny, Pg 218)
And yet another:
Kindra props her arm on her hip. “Nuh-uh. Ain’t nobody putting my mama in jail. I beat those white people with a stick till they bleed.”
Leroy points his finger at every one of them. “I don’t want to hear a word about it outside this house. It’s too dangerous. You hear me, Benny? Felicia?” Then he points his finger at Kindra. “You hear me?”
. . .But Little Miss Something slaps her fork down on the table, climbs out of her chair. “I hate white people! And I’m on tell everbody if I want to!” (Pg 220)
And still another, where Kinda is now branded as the smart aleck trouble maker, who only loves food more that talking back:
Leroy looks at me through one eye because he knows something’s up. He knew it last night at supper and smelled it when he walked in at five o’clock this morning.
“What’s eating you? Ain’t got no trouble at work, do you?” he asks for the third time.
“Nothing eating me except five kids and a husband. Y’all driving me up a wall.”
The last thing I need him to know is that I’ve told off another white lady and lost another job. . .
“Mama, where you going?” yells Kindra. “I’m hungry.”
“I’m going to Aibileen’s. Mama need to be with somebody not pulling on her for five minutes. I pass Sugar on the front steps. “Sugar, go get Kindra some breakfast.”
“She already ate. Just a half hour ago.”
“Well, she hungry again.” (Pg 226)
Somewhere along the way any affection the African American adults might have for their children (save for Aibileen’s memories of her deceased son Treelore) or frankly, for each other was lost. Minny mentions being proud of her kids only once, with nothing about how much affection or love she has for them.
Kindra’s not the only daughter of Minny’s who’s blasted for her “attitude”. In this next scene Minny strikes and berates her teen daughter Sugar, and instructs her on how to behave, especially pertaining to Celia Foote:
I looked up from my sink and saw Sugar headed straight for me with her hand on her hip. “Yeah Mama, she upchuck all over the floor. And everybody at the whole party see!” Then Sugar turned around laughing with all the others. She didn’t see the whap coming at her. Soapsuds flew through the air.
“You shut your mouth Sugar.” I yanked her to the corner. “Don’t you never let me hear you talking bad about the lady who put food in your mouth, clothes on your back! You hear me!”
Sugar, she nodded and Iwent back to my dishes, but I heard her muttering “You do it, all the time.”
I whipped around and put my finger in her face. “I got a right to. I earn it every day working for that crazy fool.” (Minny Pg 334)
Minny’s standing up for Celia by smacking her daughter may be an example of Stockett’s belief that she truly was portraying “the love” between blacks and whites:
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. “
And here’s the scene where Aibileen observes Kindra, and her views on the now seven year old aren’t positive (items in bold are my doing):
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.
“Kindra! Get your butt off that floor!” Minny holler. “Them beans better be hot when your daddy wakes up!”
Kindra – she seven now- she sass-walk her way to the stove with her bottom sticking out and her nose up in the air. Pans go banging all over the place. “Why I got to do dinner? It’s Sugar’s turn!”
“Cause Sugar at Miss Celia’s and you want a live to see third grade.”
Benny come in and squeeze me round the middle. He grin and show me the tooth he got missing, then run off.
“Kindra, turn that flame down fore you burn the house down!”
“We better go Minny,” I say, cause this could go on all night. “We gone be late.”
Minny look at her watch. Shake her head. “Why Sugar ain’t home yet? Miss Celia ain’t never kept me this late.”
Last week, Minny started bringing Sugar to work. She getting her trained for when Minny have her baby and Sugar gone have to fill in for her. Tonight Miss Celia ask Sugar to work late, say she drive her home.
“Kindra, I don’t want a see so much as a bean setting in that sink when I get back, Clean up good now.” Minny give her a hug. “Benny, go tell Daddy he better get his fool self out a that bed.”
“Awww, Mama why I-”
“Go on, be brave. Just don’t stand too close when he come to.”
We make it out the door and down to the street fore we hear Leroy hollering at Benny for waking him up. I walk faster so she don’t go back and give Leroy what he good for.
“Glad we going to church tonight,” Minny sigh. We round Farish Street, start up the steps. “Give me a hour not thnking about it all.” (Pgs 396-397)
What’s offensive in what Stockett implies from this scene:
With a “good” friend like Aibileen appearing to laugh at Minny’s chaotic household instead of offering to help, Stockett has the maid imply that Minny’s planning on having more children simply to stave off Leroy’s abuse. Which is exactly what Minny doesn’t need. Yet Aibileen, who has no problem imparting a daily self esteem mantra to Mae Mobley, or cautioning one of her now grown up former charges, “don’t drink coffee or you gone turn colored” simply watches and shows a side of her personality that’s hardly admirable.
As she watches Kindra, she turnes judgmental “Kindra – she seven now- she sass-walk her way to the stove with her bottom sticking out and her nose up in the air.”
Not once does she wonder why two children are preparing dinner, and I have to wonder why Kathryn Stockett thought this scene was funny or heartwarming. It was stereotypical, with Minny hollering orders at kids who shouldn’t have been cooking anything at their age without a parent there supervising. The scene reads more like child abuse, as Minny threatens bodily harm, which is supposed to be hysterically funny I guess, because Minny’s the jokester of the novel.
As she bullies her children into submitting to her will, this scene strikes me as another poor attempt by Stockett to show how “different” African Americans behave as opposed to whites. What’s Minny’s excuse for acting this way? But more important, why does Aibileen behave as if her underpants are on fire and she needs to rush to the church? This is the same character who gets fired up over Elizabeth speaking harshly or spanking Mae Mobley. And she even stands up to Gretchen, when it looks as if the maid wants to do more than give Skeeter a piece of her mind.
When Aibileen scurries down the street after hearing Leroy awake only to rage at Benny, for all the good the character exhibits in her scenes with Mae Mobley, it seems completely out of character for her not to turn around and give Leroy a piece of her mind.
To be continued . . .