It is rare that I read a book and am kept awake at night because I feel so passionate about a character that is new to my world. A character that is not real but who feels so much like a real person that I cannot get them out of my head. In this case, reading “The Help” led to me sitting in my bed seething and imagining what I would do to Hilly if she were to walk into my life as a real person. I must confess that some of my fantasies were quite violent–it is hard not to feel that way about Hilly, trust me.
“The Help” is the first novel written by Kathryn Stockett and has been on the best sellers list for quite a while. I saw people reading it on planes, always in the front racks at Barnes and Noble, and I saw it in my house where my mom left it on my bed at my childhood home after raving about how good it was and how I must read it. So, I picked it up and was amazed by just how right everyone was–this is a phenomenal book.
Taking place in Jackson, Mississippi during some of the most critical years of the Civil Rights Movement, “The Help” emphasizes the impact of the movement on African-American maids working for white families. It also tells the story of a young woman, Skeeter, who quietly and carefully advocates for the rights of black women in her community.
The book does a wonderful job of conveying how brave it was for Skeeter to have such progressive ambitions as every white family member and friend in her life takes part in unforgivable abuse and prejudice towards the black community. Stockett also explains through instances in the story (some fictional, and some that are quite famous and factual) the risks that were taken by blacks and whites to fight for racial equality.
Oh, and Hilly…Hilly is the quintessential southern debutante who went to college to shop for a husband and whose greatest ambition in life was to become president of the Junior League. She will not be double crossed and is the worst enemy you could ever find. She believes that black people have diseases, that they do not belong in the white world, (except, of course, to serve) and she will stop at nothing to achieve revenge for any wrongdoing. Hilly is evil. Hilly is representative of many southern women that really were just like her. And Hilly made me grit my teeth and think of all the ways I would like to punish her for what she did.
But, the book also presents the incredibly conflicting emotional relationships that existed. Skeeter learns about some of the horrifying things her mother has done while also learning her mother is suffering with cancer–how can she hate her and love her at the same time? And how can the maids who are abused again and again by their white employers love their children as much as they love their own?
I must stop here so you will read it on your own but this book has affected me in ways that I hope to carry with me for a long time. I will not forget it.