Where’s the Love?

1950s Tan magazine asking a question that also applies to The Help

Of all the things Stockett gets wrong in the book, some things she’s truly able to convey are Skeeter’s wonderment at her first real relationship with a male, and her attempt at trying to figure out the male mystique. Though her blind date with Stuart Whitworth ends badly, complete with Stuart saying her coat smells like fertilizer, he shows up three months later asking for another chance. As he awaits her answer, Skeeter notices:

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)

This is where Stockett’s writing really shines. Unfortunately, the African American characters don’t seem to merit that type of scene. In fact, for a book titled The Help and supposedly all about them, Stockett writes as if she’s outside looking in. There’s no affection between Minny and Leroy, there’s no affection between Aibileen and any man. Perhaps the author believed Aibileen’s relationship with Mae Mobley was love enough for all.

As a reader though, I had to wonder, where was the love for  and between the African American characters?

Here’s Minny, the only main African American protag without an absentee husband:

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. He knows that’s the one thing I can’t stand after nursing my daddy for ten years, me and Mama working ourselves to death so he had a full bottle. I guess I ought to be more upset about this, but last night , as an I’m sorry, Leroy came home with a sack of early okra. He knows it’s my favorite thing to eat. Tonight I’m going to fry up that okra in some cornmeal and eat like my mama never let me.(Pg 52)

Comparing Stuart’s scene with Leroy’s doesn’t seem fair, especially since Skeeter barely knows Stuart, and Leroy is already painted as the villain. But this is what the author gave us. In white society, the man comes to apologize, he’s humble, truly sorry even after he’d been drunk the night of their date. He has a reasonable excuse. His heart has been broken by his ex-fiancé, and Hilly pressured him into the date with Skeeter. But he’s appears truly remorseful.

What does Leroy do?  Though he too was under the influence of alcohol in his wife’s presence, he brings Minny okra.

And she accepts it as an apology.

Skeeter gets a verbal apology, while Minny gets okra. I don’t think Stockett was as comfortable writing scenes of affection or even tender conversation between a black man and woman.  

 
 

Skeeter, played by Emma Stone in the movie version of The Help

 

 

One explanation may come from the author herself. In an early UK interview Stockett reveals:

The Stockett family went to 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 was the maid Stockett was so fond of while staying at her grandparents home as a child and a teenager. In the same UK interview she states that Demetrie’s husband was a drunk and he was abusive towards his wife. It’s hard to not think that Plunk, Demetrie’s husband wasn’t the inspiration behind the character of Leroy, Minny’s husband.

Stockett further explains in the interview:

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.’

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

Moving past male/female relationships, what then of the love of that character for their own ethnicity? When Stockett describes the skin color and size of the black characters, it’s as if we’re a curiosity that should be kept at arms length. Even when she’s inside the head of her black protags, they don’t seem to enjoy being who they are. And while Skeeter is unsure of herself, Aibileen and Minny appear to be quite certain of who they like and dislike.

Aibileen’s estranged husband is named Clyde. Clyde was also the name of the real life maid Demetrie’s husband. Demetrie worked for Stockett’s grandparents and looked after Kathryn Stockett and two older siblings. At the end of the book, under the heading of Too Little, Too Late in her own words Stockett talks about Demetrie. Further down she mentions Clyde. In other interviews Clyde is called by his nickname of Plunk. I mention Clyde/Plunk, because I believe this is another real life person that Stockett used when creating a character. But not just one character. In my opinion, Stockett used the negative traits of Clyde/Plunk to broadly paint the other African American males in the novel, namely Connor, Constantine’s absentee lover, Minny’s father, who’s name is never given in the novel, and especially Leroy.

Leroy is the abusive husband of Minny, the loud mouth, “sassy” maid. But I’ll start with Clyde.

Of her absentee husband, Aibileen doesn’t say much. Except that a week after he ran off with a woman named Cocoa, word got out that Cocoa had a venereal disease. While Stockett doesn’t actually have Minny say the words “venereal disease” she has her remark that Cocoa woke up with her “cootchie spoilt like a rotten oyster”.

Minny tells Aibileen that people think she has a direct connection to God because of this event, implying that Aibileen’s power of prayer had something to do with it. To add to the stupidity of their conversation (since these are supposed to be two regularly church going, devout Christians) Stockett has Aibileen ask this:

“You saying people think I got the black magic?”

How God and “Black magic” would ever enter Stockett’s mind to be linked together is beyond me. All I know is that it’s offensive.

Before that though, Aibileen recalls that she’d taught her son how to call his father Crisco (presumably because she’s still mad at him for running off). She begins it as a game:

One day I say Crisco. He scratch his head. He just can’t believe I done won the game with something simple as Crisco. Came to be a secret joke with us, meaning something you can’t dress up no matter how you try. 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.

If Stockett thought this would gain her solidarity with black women throughout the world, she was highly mistaken. Especially since once again, she spares the white males who reveled in segregation and profited from the cheap labor of both black men and women. No white male is demeaned in the novel like this, not even the naked pervert who jacks off in front of Celia and Minny. Skeeter doesn’t decide to call Stuart anything other than his name, even though he dumps her twice.

So again I ask, where’s the love, especially for the black male in this novel?

Stockett kills off the most promising male before the novel begins. Since the maid’s novel was Treelore’s idea  in the first place (in a round-a-bout way, since Treelore was planning to write a book on his experience of working for a white employer) guess there was no way both he and Skeeter could possibly have worked on the book TOGETHER.

The Help has quite a few sections where there’s unequal treatment of the races, and its ironic considering Stockett was trying to show how absurd and wrong the practice was. Yet she falls into the same trap.

I’ve got another post called Separate but Unequal, where Stockett makes a difference in the children of all things.

Minny’s kids are the unruly brats. Kindra at five is described as mouthy and belligerent. A chip off the old block I’d say, since Minny is supposidely one of the heroine’s of the novel for her big mouth. Yet Stockett seems to have a problem with the younger generation of black children in this book.

She has Minny smack her teen daughter (Sugar) for gossiping and laughing over her employer,  Celia Foote. But Minny has done nothing but gossip about Celia ever since meeting the woman. So an abused woman turns around and violently attacks her own child in defense of her employer’s “honor”.

But that’s not the first time Minny has stuck up for Celia. This severely abused woman picks up a knife and tells Celia to lock the door behind her as she goes out to confront the naked pervert. And some readers find this perfectly plausible.

Never mind that Minny is still nursing a nasty cut from Leroy’s rage that very morning. Somehow this woman who’s been battered and beaten for fifteen years has the courage to defend Celia, not once, but twice.

Yet she continues to allow herself and her children to endure the horrors of Leroy’s drunken violence. Oh, and sometimes he beats her when he’s sober. Not to mention, she’s carrying her sixth child during all this.

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

 

Perhaps her good friend Aibileen can be of assistance?

Or maybe not, since Aibileen seems to be too busy sucking up to her former and present employer’s children, and also Skeeter.

 

 

 

 

Stockett even has sections where Saint Aibileen makes cruel and uncalled for jokes regarding Minny’s predicament. Here are the excerpts:

Skeeter asks 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: Minny had that big bruise on her arm cause that’s what Leroy do when he come home from work. He push her around.  (Pg 183)

And there’s this scene:

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)

There’s also another scene where Aibileen feels the need to flee before Leroy wakes up, since he’s known to go ballistic. As Minny tells her son Benny to be brave, Aibileen thinks she needs to walk faster when they both hear Leroy awaken and shouting at the boy.

We make it out the door and down 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. (Pg 397)

There goes Stockett’s “regal” maid running down the street to avoid sticking up for Benny.

to be continued…

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