I have a penchant for novels told from the point of view of a writer. This was even sweeter for the fact that a young gangly, white college graduate writes in collaboration with The Help–women whose black skin and pressed maid uniforms speak of an entirely different sort of upbringing.
This book is about crossing boundaries between race and social class during a time (the early 60’s) when integration was a four letter word and white people didn’t associate with colored people. Except they did. Stockett attempts to show the love and fear, the pain and joy and the familial bonds that tied the white and black cultures together. Stockett confesses in her end notes that this novel was inspired by The Help who took care of her family during her formative years.
In summary, Skeeter is inspired to write a book told from the viewpoint of the maids. Her first challenge is to find women who not only offer compelling stories of abuse and triumph, but who are also willing to risk their lives and livelihoods just to tell their stories. There are two heroines in this novel: Skeeter and Abileen. As they begin their journey, writing together, they begin a friendship that is not based upon servant and master, but friend and friend–two women equal in spirit and hope for a world where all people recognize that black and white are only skin deep.
Stockett is just as brave as the women in The Help, she writes several chapters from the vernacular and point of view of the maids. Much ado and criticism have sprung forth, claiming that Stockett’s use of vernacular was stereotypical and the depictions of black characters were offensive. While the white folk don’t have a southern accent, the vernacular of the maids is not horrific. It might not be perfectly accurate, but it is easy to read and understand. Furthermore, I could *hear* the characters speaking. This is an excellent accomplishment for any writer! I am always quick to praise a novel that delivers me into a visual experience of the author’s imagination, but rarely do I find I can also hear every word that a character speaks. If Stockett’s representation fails someone’s high standards for perfect vernacular, they could use a little help finding the point of the novel.
And on the tune of visual representation. I was there. I enjoyed the social and political references even if a few of the details experienced time travel. The Help explores a new slant about the lives of people who keep hired help. I qualify it as ‘new’ because the novel spends little time outside of the perspective of the maids or the situations they are inextricably involved with. Unlike classic novels where maids are present and often even have names, this book is a celebration of the work they did and the racism they shouldered with smiles on their faces and ‘yes ma’ams” on their lips.
In the news Stockett’s brother’s help Ablene filed a lawsuit in February 2011 against Stockett for stealing her identity and using it as the maid Abilene.