Wednesday, 7 December 2011
Colour is Only Skin Deep
Lauded by all who have read it, including my mother, I felt sure The Help wouldn’t be as good as everyone insisted… how wrong I was. Though it took me a few pages to get into the narrative, as the plot seemed thin at the start, it wasn’t long before I had become immersed in the lives of Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter; the three women whose stories direct the novel.
Based partly on Kathryn Stockett’s own experiences of growing up with a coloured maid in 1960s Mississippi, the story introduces us to the good, the bad and the downright ugly of racial divides at this time. As ambitious writer, Skeeter Phelan, sets about making a change through the words she crafts on her typewriter assisted by the maids of Jackson, this unlikely alliance comes up against the inevitable backlash from those who live by the rules of white supremacy, chiefly Miss Hilly Holbrook. Advocating a sanitation initiative to sequester the coloured help to their own bathrooms outside the white homes they work in, and directing the state of play among her white society ladies; Miss Hilly is the ultimate villain.
Skeeter, managing to overcome the prejudice held by the majority of coloured maids for their white mistresses, strikes up a deep friendship with the women who bravely share their experiences with her, in particular Aibileen and Minny. Working together in secret to compile a novel that if published will undoubtedly ruffle more than a few feathers, and even result in punishment should the maids’ employees discover they are the inspiration behind the words; we, the readers, are drawn into a world where white children are raised by coloured maids, where marriage is the only acceptable pastime for a college graduate and where true kindness exists if you are willing to accept it.
What this story shows, when you bury beneath the layer of white versus black, is how people can surprise you with their goodness and how, against the odds, fate has a way of rewarding the good and making the bad pay. The strength and tolerance of the maids is inspiring, as is the determination and sacrifice of Skeeter; each woman places herself on the line for the greater good of telling the truth, risking friends, lovers, and most of all, their lives.