The Help: Sugar-Coated Bites of a Real Dilemma

As I have mentioned before, I have a tendency to judge books rather harshly. This is especially true for books that the nation (oh, silly nation) praise and recommend, and this is most certainly the case with The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

The writing is simple, which I found odd because she describes one of the main characters, Aibileen’s writing as the same with “clear, honest” on page 177 and “simple, straightforward” on page 180, always equating it to enjoyable. As I was reading these little details, they felt to me more like comparisons to Stockett’s own writing: little, possibly unintentional pats on her back. The writing overall, because it was so simple, was by and large, nothing special, while not the worst I have ever read, but because of this, I will probably not go hunting for her new books when they come out. My main criticism of this book however, is when I shut the book upon my finish, I found myself thinking one thing…

Only white women will appreciate this book.

Set during the civil rights’ movement, the book chronicles the lives of two African American house maids,¬†Aibileen and Minny, and one Miss Skeeter, who is a fledgling white writer constantly trying to live up to the expectations of her mother. The three of them begin a project in which they are going to write a book, headed mainly by Skeeter, on what it’s like to be “the help” in a white household as an African American. A topic, that could indeed be “button-pushing” as many reviews described the book as.

However, as I was reading, the whole thing felt sugar-coated and hollow. Stockett focuses on intimate relationships and a deep “love” that the help felt for their white families. As Skeeter is hearing the stories of these different house maids, she describes it as “each one proclaimed their love as best friends,” or as there being “an undisguised hate for white women, there is an inexplicable love (pg. 303).” These lines bothered me. Throughout the book, more proclamations of love were made, and I couldn’t help feeling that the whole story, although heart-warming, was an injustice to the Civil Rights’ movement in itself. About halfway through the book, I could almost picture the author, Kathryn Stockett as a white southern belle, who probably had African American maids herself. I googled her, and found I was exactly right.

I understand that when telling a story, you can come from any angle you like really. Stockett chose to take the safe one, where the battle between these races that changed and shaped a country seemed not nearly as rough as it had been. However, because of this, at the end of the paperback, I felt slighted of the real story. I felt as if she rarely actually touched on the bad, only mentioning it briefly by saying ‘something bad happened,’ and then running on to describe in full the good. Even when recanting the stories of the women who had worked for white families all their life, she would just skip right over it, as if to say “yeah, things were bad, but mainly because they had to pee in a different bathroom. They really loved white people.”

This being said, I am sure that there were instances that were like that. I just can’t imagine that “each one” was, and because of that single fact, I felt like the book left out the most important parts of the story.

However, the conclusions I came to made it much more obvious why this book has been flying off the shelves: Simple, fast reading and a story that took a tough topic and made it easy to digest by wrapping it in a pretty paper with hearts and bows and only an occasional tear to interrupt an otherwise smooth history. We all know, this was not the case.

I’m not saying by any means, you shouldn’t read the book. It’s uplifting. It’s heart warming. I think you just need to keep in mind that the only reason I may be saying those things is because I am in fact a white chick.

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2 Responses to The Help: Sugar-Coated Bites of a Real Dilemma

  1. Jon was correct in that you are a natural at critique and it seems to be an excellent niche for you. I would add that it is a good place to tone your muscles but your ability to wake people up has huge potential in something much bigger. Meanwhile, keep flexing.

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