MAY / JUNE 2016: BY CAROL STARKEY
The Help is all about race. The story takes place in the early 60s when racial tensions were high.
Skeeter, single, gangly, and unsure of herself, grew up with a maid, Constantine. The maid disappeared while Skeeter was away at college, and no one will tell her the truth. In her struggle to become a writer, she writes to Harper & Row in NYC, eager to find a job. Elaine Stein tells her that if she has an idea, something fresh and edgy, she’d be glad to read it.
Skeeter’s childhood friend, Hilly, has decided that the black help need their own bathrooms. Convinced that they are dirtier than white people and carry diseases, Hilly campaigns for bathrooms to be added on for the help to use. It’s not long before Skeeter realizes the situation provides the perfect idea for a book. She wants to collect the stories, both good and bad, from those who serve white people.
She approaches Aibleen, a maid who works for her friend, Elizabeth. At first, none of the maids want anything to do with Skeeter’s plan to write a book, but after a black boy is beaten for using the wrong bathroom, two maids come forth. Those two turn into four, then a dozen. By the end of the book, Skeeter tells the stories of thirteen maids, including her own, Constantine.
Throughout this book, black people are beaten, thrown in jail, denied the chance for further education, and fired for no reason other than not wanting to work for a harsh new mistress. Martin Luther King, Jr. marches in Washington D.C., but in Jackson, Mississippi, few things change. Yet, some things do. Aibleen realizes the line between black and white people exists only in bigoted minds. Black people are allowed to use the white library. And through Skeeter’s book, the reader sees not just hate and division, but also the loving relationships between white people and their maids. In one case, the maid is the only one who understands the depression and inner turmoil her mistress suffers. In another, one white woman reaches out emotionally and financially after her maid’s son is beaten and blinded.
The line between white and black is defined, and few dare cross it. When Skeeter writes her book, she underestimates the danger to herself and the maids. She also underestimates how close she will become to these women, and how differently she will view them. At the end of the book, Skeeter is still single, but she is single by choice. Skeeter is no longer gangly or unsure of herself. She knows who she is, and who her true friends are.
She also forgives her mother. The maid, Constantine, had a baby, a little girl who could have passed as white, and as a result, Skeeter’s mother fired her. Skeeter sees the racism surrounding her in Mississippi and knows she can’t beat it. She can only escape and start a new life in New York.
I grew up in the South, and though I never saw beatings, I know racism. I know how easy it can be to be racist, and how parents teach it to their children. I have had to overcome it in my life, and I refuse to let my children treat others who have differences differently than those who are similar. We are all human, made in God’s image. At the end of The Help, both Aibleen and Skeeter realize that nothing separates them. They are both women, capable of anything they set their minds to. ♥
Carol Starkley lives in New England with her husband, three daughters, and numerous pets. She likes to read, write, bake, and dabble with the clarinet. She also infrequently blogs.