Kathryn Stockett’s ‘The Help’ is a disturbingly haunting narrative of life during the 1960s America, with the rampant racial discrimination against African Americans and almost zero civil and human rights for these people. The reason why it’s disturbing to read now is because it made me realize how easy it is for the rest of the world (us!) to forget that dark chapter of USA’s history.
You read this book and then you see Barack Obama in the White House and it hits you how big a deal it is. Yeah, we’ve all seen the ‘Yes you can’ campaign, all the joyous crying and shouting when he won, but I never really gave it a second thought – just another American President, winning another term in office. The thing is, a little over 50 years back, a black man could not even sit at the same table as a white man.
It’s that big a deal. And for that realization to strike me, I have Kathryn Stockett to thank. It made me so angry that I actually thought these racist white people were no different from the Aryan-supremacy-spouting Nazis! But we never talk about it that way, do we? We forgot. But now I know and I’m not likely to forget. Know why? It still happens. All that racism? It’s not gone. We actually have more shades of skin now to discriminate against.
Enough with my rant now. Been a while since I got this emotional about a topic. 😦
The story, set in Jackson, Mississippi, is from the perspective of three main characters –
– Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, a white woman, who wants to be a journalist in a society that expects women to be married and with children by the time they’re barely 21-22.
– Minny Jackson, a black woman, who’s a ‘sassy-mouthed’ maid for one of the white families in the neighborhood. Her day starts at the crack of dawn and till dusk all she does is slog. And comes back home to her children and an abusive husband.
– Aibileen Clark, a black woman, who’s also a maid to a white family, but who comes home to an empty house ever since she lost her only son in an accident.
The book chronicles the everyday trials that these women undergo (Skeeter included) and how their single act of rebellion brings them together in ways even they could not have imagined. This, during times when atrocities against blacks is increasing around them and Martin Luther King Jr. is in far off Washington, on a podium, saying ‘I have a dream’.
The only other book on a similar topic that touched me as much as this is Harper Lee’s ‘To kill a mockingbird’ (which makes a guest appearance in this book!). However, the kind of details that’s gone into ‘The Help’ is more disturbing and painful.
‘The Help’ is not a book of tragedy or sadness – if I gave that impression so far, my mistake! It’s still a very happy book, with hope and faith and loads of love. Love in such unfathomable ways that it makes you want to hug every one of these women and never let go.
I haven’t given out anything about the actual story and I’m keeping it that way so you can read it for yourself and enjoy it the way I did. It’s a free trip to Jackson, Mississippi, folks!