|February 10, 2009|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|813/.6 22 ,|
|LC Class||PS3619.T636 H45 2009|
The Help is a 2009 novel by American author Kathryn Stockett. The story is about African-American maids working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi, during the early 1960s. A USA Today article called it one of the "summer sleeper hits". An early review in The New York Times notes Stockett's "affection and intimacy buried beneath even the most seemingly impersonal household connections" and says the book is a "button-pushing, soon to be wildly popular novel". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said of the book: "This heartbreaking story is a stunning début from a gifted talent."
The novel is Stockett's first. It took her five years to complete and was rejected by 60 literary agents before agent Susan Ramer agreed to represent Stockett. The Help has since been published in 35 countries and three languages. As of August 2011, it has sold five million copies and has spent more than 100 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list.
The Help's audiobook version is narrated by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, and Cassandra Campbell. Spencer was Stockett's original inspiration for the character of Minny, and also plays her in the film adaptation.
The Help is set in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, and told primarily from the first-person perspectives of three women: Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter. Aibileen is an African-American maid who cleans houses and cares for the young children of various white families. Her first job since her own 24-year-old son, Treelore, died from an accident on his job is tending the Leefolt household and caring for their toddler, Mae Mobley. Minny is Aibileen's confrontational friend who frequently tells her employers what she thinks of them, resulting in her having been fired from nineteen jobs. Minny's most recent employer was Mrs. Walters, mother of Hilly Holbrook. Hilly is the social leader of the community, and head of the Junior League.
Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan is the daughter of a prominent white family whose cotton farm employs many African Americans in the fields, as well as in the household. Skeeter has just finished college and comes home with dreams of becoming a writer, which is at odds with her mother's dream for Skeeter to get married. Skeeter frequently wonders about the sudden disappearance of Constantine, the maid who raised her. She had been writing to Skeeter while she was away at college and her last letter promised a surprise upon her homecoming. Skeeter's mother tells her that Constantine abruptly quit and went to live with relatives in Chicago. Skeeter does not believe that Constantine would just leave without telling her, and continually pursues anyone she thinks has information about her to come forth. Everyone Skeeter asks about the strange disappearance of Constantine feigns ignorance of the entire matter, or else tells her small amounts of information that leave Skeeter bewildered and hurt.
The life that Constantine led while being the help to the Phelan family leads Skeeter to the realization that her friends' maids are treated very differently from the way the white employees are treated. She decides (with the assistance of a publisher) that she wants to reveal the truth about being a colored maid in Mississippi. Skeeter struggles to communicate with the maids and gain their trust. The dangers of undertaking writing a book about African Americans speaking out in the South during the early 1960s hover constantly over the three women.
The story opens when Skeeter returns from four years at college; when Aibileen begins working for Mrs Elizabeth Leefolt; and when Minnie is let go from her job working for Mrs. Walters and begins working for Celia Foote. When Skeeter rejoins her friends at their weekly bridge club meeting at Elizabeth’s house, Hilly Holbook asks Skeeter to please place an advertisement in the Junior League’s newsletter about the benefits of installing a separate bathroom for the “colored help.” Skeeter is offended by the suggestion that domestic workers of color need a separate toilet, but does not confront her friend about this. Instead she simply does not place the ad in the paper. Before Skeeter leaves the brunch/card game, she asks Aibileen if she would like to see “things change?” Aibileen does not know what Skeeter means, and is suspicious of the young women’s motives for making such a statement.
Eventually Skeeter wins Aibileen’s trust through a friendship that develops while Aibileen helps Skeeter write a household tips column for the local newspaper. Skeeter accepted the job to write the column as a stepping stone to becoming a writer/editor, as was suggested by Elaine Stein, editor at Harper & Row, despite the fact that she knows nothing about cleaning or taking care of a household, since that is the exclusive domain of ‘the help.’ The irony of this fact is not lost on Skeeter, and she eventually offers to pay Aibileen for the time and expertise she received from her.
Elaine Stein had also suggested to Skeeter that she find a subject to write about which she can be dedicated to and passionate about. Skeeter realizes that she wants to expose to the world the deplorable conditions the maids in the South endure in order to barely survive in the form of a book. Unfortunately such an expose is a dangerous proposition, not just for Skeeter, but for any maids that agree to help her. Aibileen finally agrees to tell her story, but she cannot persuade any of her friends to join in the project.
When Hilly has her maid, Yule May arrested and sent to jail for four years for stealing a ring, which she stole from her to pay her twin sons’ college tuition, the other maids decide that they are willing to take a chance with their jobs and their safety and join the book project which Aibileen and Skeeter are working on. (Yule May had asked Hilly to lend her the money as an advance on her salary. She was not able to save enough for two tuition payments, only one, due to the meager salary she was earning as Hilly’s maid. Hilly said no.)
Thus the thrust of the book is the collaborative project between the white, privileged Skeeter and the struggling, exploited “colored” help, who together are writing a book of true stories about their experiences as the ‘help’ to the white women of Jackson, Mississippi. Not all the stories are negative, and some describe beautiful and generous, loving and kind events; while others are cruel and even brutal. The book, entitled “Help” is finally published, and the final chapters of “The Help” describe the aftermath of the books’ appearance in Jackson.
At the 84th Academy Awards, Octavia Spencer won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in this film. The film also received three other Academy Award nominations: Academy Award for Best Picture, Academy Award for Best Actress for Viola Davis, and Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Jessica Chastain.
Abilene Cooper, a maid who used to work for Stockett's brother, has criticized the author for stealing her life story without her knowledge and sued her for $75,000 in damages. Cooper also criticized her for comparing the character's skin color to a cockroach which to her is racism. A Hinds County, Mississippi judge threw the case out of court, citing the statute of limitations. Stockett denies her claim of stealing her likeness, and says she only met her briefly.
Awards and honors
- New York Times bestseller (Fiction, 2009, 2011)
- Amazon's Best Books of the Year (#19, 2009)
- Orange Prize Longlist (2010)
- Indies Choice Book Award (Adult Debut, 2010)
- Townsend Prize for Fiction (2010)
- Exclusive Books Boeke Prize (2009)
- SIBA Book Award (Fiction, 2010)
- International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Longlist (2011)
- Christian Science Monitor Best Book (Fiction, 2009)
- Memmott, Carol (July 31, 2008). "Kate Stockett's 'The Help' is the hot book this summer". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-10-20.
- Maslin, Janet (February 18, 2009). "Racial Insults and Quiet Bravery in 1950s Mississippi". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-20.
- Dollacker, Sarah Sacha (February 1, 2009). "Segregation tale describes bond of women". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 6 December 2009.
- Calkin, Jessamy (July 16, 2009). "The maid's tale: Kathryn Stockett examines slavery and racism in America's Deep South". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2009-10-20.
- "Kathryn Stockett's 'The Help' Turned Down 60 Times Before Becoming a Best Seller". More Magazine.
- Kehe, Marjorie (May 14, 2010). "With book sales still strong, 'The Help' will begin filming". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2010-05-26.
- Williams, Wyatt. "Kathryn Stockett: Life in the belle jar". Creative Loafing Atlanta. Retrieved 4 August 2011.
- D'Souza, Karen. "'The Help' is poised to become chick flick of the summer". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 4 August 2011.
- "Mississippi: The Filming Locations of The Help" (in English). Locations Hub. September 14, 2011. Retrieved 20 May 2014.
- Fleming, Michael (15 December 2009). "Chris Columbus fast-tracks 'Help'". Variety.
- "Mississippi: The Filming Locations of The Help". Locations Hub. September 14, 2011. Retrieved 20 May 2014. "Out of all the towns and cities in the state, Greenwood probably has the best representation of 1960’s Mississippi. It was no surprise that it was hand-picked to be the main film location for The Help."
- "Nominees and Winners for the 84th Academy Awards". Oscars.org. Retrieved 20 May 2014.
- Churcher, Sharon (4 September 2011). "Her family hired me as a maid for 12 years but then she stole my life and made it a Disney movie". The Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 12 September 2011.
- Mitchell, Jerry. "'The Help' lawsuit tossed out". The Clarion Ledger.
- Chaney, Jen (16 August 2011). "‘The Help’ lawsuit against Kathryn Stockett is dismissed". The Washington Post. Retrieved 24 May 2012.