For many readers and ecstatic fans of The Help, any flaws in the novel fail to outweigh the book’s central message(s). Which are, segregation was wrong and we’re all equal, regardless of color.
That’s something both those who love the book and those who don’t can agree on. But the flaws in the book are still there. And they consist of the depiction, both behavior wise and verbally of not only the African American characters, but their white employers. The response much of the time when this is pointed out varies, but goes something like this;
The novel was not meant to be a history lesson. Instead it gave an impressive glimpse of what it must have been like in the segregated south and above all, it was entertaining.
That the book was enjoyable entertainment was a reason a great many readers gave.
Perhaps it’s all a matter of perspective. Otherwise how could a book so wildly beloved by so many come up exceedingly short for others. And many who dislike the book and disagree with the character portrayals are quite frustrated and angry.
For how could an author, who has one of her central characters ponder “Nobody ever asked Mammy what she thought” fail to do exactly that in creating The Help?
In order to investigate, one cannot divorce the author from the material, as the publisher has inexplicably linked the two.
The author came with an impressive pedigree. A daughter of the south, having been raised partly by the maid or actual “help” of her grandparents. And it made for a hearwarming story.
Because the maid named Demetrie sounded like a sweet, compassionate woman. Someone who was devoted, to not only making certain the household ran smoothly, but that Stockett and her siblings never wanted for her attention or affection.
And so the novel was a tribute of sorts to Demetrie’s memory, since she died when the author was just sixteen.
But can a novel, especially one that’s fiction tell the story of both the men and women who played such an important part in keeping southern households clean and families fed on woeful pay, no health benefits or even retirement pension?
Well, part of the problem was solved by not having a main African American male protag, at least one who would balance the crudeness of Leroy, Minny’s abusive husband.
Another was when the author admitted why she added Skeeter’s character.
In an interview with Mokoto Rich of the NY Times, Stockett says she worried that readers wouldn’t trust her if she only wrote about black characters. “I just didn’t think that would ever be allowed to sit on the shelf,” she said. “So I threw Skeeter in the mix and I felt a little better about it, because I was showing a white perspective as well.”
Perhaps Stockett didn’t realize the whole novel is from a white perspective. How else can the insertions of characters drawn from stereotypical images long past be explained?
To be continued…