The Help, (2009) by Kathryn Stockett is a portrayal of life in early 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. The focus is on the relations between white women and those "of color." The novel is written from three perspectives.
The first voice is Abileen, a black maid working for the Leefolts, a white family, that is undergoing financial strain. Abileen is calm, intelligent and caring. She has worked for white families, nurturing and raising their children for much of her life. She is in her 60s and has cared for white child after white child, most of whom grow up to be as racist as their fathers and mothers.
The second perspective is Minny, a maid as well, with an alcoholic husband who beats her the same as her father used to during her childhood. Minny is vivacious, portly, and has trouble keeping a job in Jackson because of her tendency to respond frankly to her white bosses. She has children, a husband, and she spends all day cleaning other people's houses. There are woman in Jackson Mississippi, who are ready for change, such as a perfectly made bonfire, just waiting for a match.
Skeeter (third) is 23 and as an ambitious writer, she craves freedom away from 1960s plantation life and her mother, who thinks she can make up for her own petty life by overly controlling her daughter, with comments and suggestions to improve her looks, so as to find a husband, in a manner meant to be "helpful." Skeeter smokes, and applies for writing/editorial jobs, not in Mississippi. She hears back via mail from an Elaine Stein, Senior Editor at Harper and Row Publishers. And so the change begins.
Skeeter compiles a narrative of stories based on the lives of maids in Jackson. As a result, she becomes outcasted from every white person in the small city, with the exception of her family. Her mother is direly ill and her father runs the plantation, as a shell of a person, unable to believe his wife is dying. Skeeter is able to move to New York and begin her career with the help of a trust fund, once the book is published. The book's capital income is divided 13 ways because of the number of people whose stories Skeeter used.
The Help reveals the maids of 1960s suburban Southern life are not ghosts meant to care for white people; but that they are people themselves, with thoughts, feelings and faults of their own. Some of the novel I was uncertain of in terms of racial representation because the author, Stockett, wrote the black characters according to phonetic diction while the white characters' southern accents are written in Standard American English. Also, with the African American narration, there are differences in wording while all white dialect is written in SAE. Rosa Parks (born 1913), a black Alabama seamstress, spoke in SAE. Is Stockett credited to know what African American speech would have been like at that time and place in history?
The "white trash" character, Celia Foote, from The Help speaks in SAE rather than Southern American English. So, if Celia is speaking in SAE, why are the working class African American characters speaking in what seems a version of African American Vernacular English, (using double negatives and keeping intransitive verbs without converting them to third person singular) rather than SAE? The whole book should be written according to dialect for both black and white characters, or else all in SAE.
By Sarah Bahl