"The Help is fiction, by and large. Still, as I wrote it, ... I was scared, a lot of the time, that I was crossing a terrible line, writing in the voice of a black person.
"What I am sure about is this: I don't presume to think that I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially in the 1960's. I don't think it is something any white woman on the other end of a black woman's paycheck could ever truly understand. But trying to understand is vital to our humanity. In The Help there is one line that I truly prize:
"Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought."
-from the author's note at the end of The Help by Kathryn StockettHere's what I think, rather simply put: The Help is a beautiful novel. It's a truly meaningful story and masterfully written, in my opinion. It's an important book.
And when I say that, I am simultaneously acknowledging my juxtaposition to this book, that I am an educated seventeen year old Canadian of European descent living in a predominantly white, largely upper-middle class town. I am recognizing that this story that I've just finished reading is just that, a story. Though set in a very real time and place, The Help is fiction and should be treated as such.
It is controversial for this author to have written this book, as I came to pretty firmly believe after a Skype conversation with Vita. Maybe Stockett crossed a line. Maybe she shouldn't have. But I've thought about this, compared it to other stories that have been written and I've started to think that crossing those lines is kind of important. Because, as said in the book, those lines really only exist in our heads.
I'm not saying that to belittle racial differences and push aside atrocities that have been committed in the past. I'm only saying it because we can't let those lines rule over us. Even though we can never imagine each other perfectly, we still need to try. This is a theme I saw as much in The Help as in Paper Towns. We need to try and we need to get it wrong and we need a safe space to be able to do that. Because the second we give up trying to imagine what it's like to be another human being, that is the second the hate and prejudice creeps back up behind us to take the small amount of control we had.
I enjoyed reading The Help. As much as it's a story about Jackson, Mississippi in the 60's, it's a story about love and strength and courage and solidarity and friendship. It's about sameness and difference and, overall, it's just a really good story.
I recommend it highly and I welcome your disagreements with any of what I've said here. I'm learning how to deal with being wrong and this is just another instance where I probably am. And that's okay with me.