The Help – Book and Movie
A few weeks ago I finished reading The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, and last week-end we had a window of opportunity – aka Aidan’s lunchtime nap – and watched the movie. These moments are so rare and precious nowadays, as we’re insanely busy with work and everything in between.
In a nutshell, the story happens in 1963 Southern US – the year when President Kennedy was assassinated, Medgar Evers was killed in front of his house and Martin Luther King marched on Washington for jobs and freedom. Stockett narrates the story through the voices of the black maids working in the white people’s homes in Jackson, Mississippi, but also through the voice of Skeeter, a young aspiring writer.
Skeeter has this idea of writing a book about the help’s lives in that paradoxical society, where white children were lovingly raised by the help, but who, paradoxically, were seen as carrying dangerous diseases and made to use a separate bathroom from their employers. I won’t go into too much detail about the course of events or the characters, as there are plenty of good reviews out there – for both the book and the movie.
I’d rather share with you a few things I liked about the book.
1. I couldn’t put the book down until I finished Stockett’s recount of her own childhood and her love for Demetrie, the black maid who raised her with affection and taught her what love meant. This book is an “ode” to this woman and I was moved by the author’s motivation to write it.
2. Stockett so beautifully interweaves facts and fiction to give us a real feel of the difficult life black women had in those times. I appreciate the history lesson. I don’t mean to say I took what happened in The Help literally, but it made me think and feel beyond the few facts I knew from high school history classes. What results is a moving story about life in the 60s for the black help, the mores of the society, a story about courage, love, compassion, cruelty and hope.
3. Her writing style is interesting and colourful, full of colloquialisms and idioms that make the maids’ voices so authentic and alive. I laughed out loud reading Minny’s monologues about her employer, Celia Footie, a ditzy trailer-trash from Sugar Ditch married to Hilly’s old boyfriend and a true outcast for the entire Jackson gentry. Stockett beautifully portrays the fashions, food and physiques of the early 1960s. We have been also watching the Mad Men series, which helped me better visualize the world in The Help.
4. I loved the duality of the society portrayed and the heart-warming confession that Lou Anne makes to Skeeters about her maid being the only reason why she was waking up in the morning. On one had you’ve got the spiteful society bell, Hilly Holbrook whose own mother (by the way, very funny character in the movie!) condemns her mean and patronizing behaviour. And at the opposite end, there’s Skeeter, an aspiring writer with the fondest of memories about her childhood maid Constantine, whose absence is still painful to her. There’s the whole inequality issue in in Jackson, Mississippi that doesn’t seem to bother many, while the town ladies put all their efforts into organizing a charity ball to help the children in Africa not starve to death.
5. Stockett succeeds in telling a tale without blatantly pointing fingers. While she focuses on the loving and dutifully nature of the help, she also shows their weaknesses and silences. There’s good and bad on each side of the fence. Unlike the film, which finishes on a more romanticised, typical American movie note, Stockett ends her book in hope, without sugar-coating everything:
- Celia Foote doesn’t learn how to cook and stays the same fool in Minny’s eyes.
- Hilly still behaves like a wasp, bossing around the weaker ones like Elizabeth.
- Elizabeth stays the same unloving mother to her little girl.
As for the movie, Sergiu really enjoyed it and is looking forward to reading the book. Of course the director had to leave out underlying stories, as there are only so many minutes in a movie. The performances in The Help are so strong and so moving and I truly must say I haven’t been disappointed after watching it. I found Jessica Chastain’s interpretation of Celia Footie brilliant and I am looking forward to see her in Tree of Life.