Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Help

"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 Stockett 
 Here'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.


Catherine Lucia said...

I agree with one addendum. The only problem with this book is that Stockett portrayed all white people as evil, all black people as righteous, and then stuck Skeeter in there to anticipate modern attitudes she would not have fully embodied the way she did in the book. That might have been avoided had a black woman in the 60s wrote it - but it might not have. Either way, to say an author can't write in the persona of someone different from them is straight up silly. We're supposed to step into another shoes. That's what writing and fiction are about.

Alex said...

I would say she made some attempts at not portraying people as either good or evil. Maybe that's just me seeing what I want to see but, aside from Hilly and maybe Elizabeth, who was a character that you couldn't see some light in? Even the mother, after what she did, had a lot of goodness, despite the attitudes she adopted from the culture she lived in. When thinking about the inherent goodness of the black characters, yeah it's a little hard to believe everyone was so great but there were different characters thrown in who were less than admirable.

So I definitely I agree that some of the characters could be a bit too set in a positive or negative light. But I think a bit of an effort was made by the author.

Thanks for your comment. :)

Catherine Lucia said...

Ok, you're right, I was exaggerating and it was mostly Hilly/Elizabeth. I just didn't think the book was realistic. But the message was great and Stockett had a lot of courage.