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Reading between the lines with Britt:

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

By Britt Nygaard
On September 7, 2011

While often leery of books acclaimed by the masses, I was pleasantly surprised at my enjoyment of Kathryn Stockett's debut novel. during the early 1960s, The Help tells the intertwining stories of three women: Skeeter, a 22-year-old white woman of privilege who returns home from Ole Miss and sees the bias of those around

her for the first time; Aibileen, a black maid to Skeeter's friend, who has raised 19 white children; and Minny, an outspoken black maid whose opinions and inability to bite her tongue often leave her unemployed. They set out to

write a book about serving white households from the perspective of black maids. Coincidently, both Aibileen

and Minny work for women are friends of Skeeters. What pulls readers in, however, is more their individual stories.

Much of the book's charm comes from the first person narrative  of each character, along with the alternate  strength and fragility of each of these women. Skeeter, for all her privilege, is 22 and single—practically  spinsterhood  for her mother. On top of that, her first love is the son of a local senator—not exactly someone she wants to know she is a closet civil rights activist. Aibileen still struggles with the loss of her son and silently tries to

put up with the insult of having a Negro bathroom installed for her at her employers'. And Minny, on top of barely being able to find a job, must feed her multiple children and keep her abusive husband happy. But while The Help certainly leaves the reader with a good feeling, it is far from a feel-good book. Stockett's heartwarming tale of

the friendship that forms between Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny is  punctuated by blunt realities of the time: the local leader of the NAACP being shot, the bombing in Birmingham that kills four small girls and the blinding of a

local black woman's grandson. Amidst these disturbing occurrences, there runs a mixture of fear and hope through the entire book. Fear that they will be caught; hope that, if published, their stories could change  something. Fear of losing those that matter most to them; hope that the reward will be greater for their efforts.

Throughout the novel all three women learn that both fear and hope are warranted. What I most appreciated about

The Help was its attempt to reconcile the ambiguity of the times. When a white child is raised by a black woman, both learn to love each other, and yet when the child is grown she becomes the mistress, and in essence, the  enemy to the black woman. Stockett writes with beautiful prose as she attempts to do the feelings of both parties justice, and leaves the reader with a story that is both heart wrenching and heartwarming.


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