What happens when a southern town's unspoken code of rules and behavior is shattered by three courageous women?
Kathryn Stockett became famous overnight with the publishing of her debut novel The Help. The novel is set in Stockett's hometown Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. Although Jackson’s population was half white and half black, Stockett grew up not having a single black friend, a black neighbor or a black person in her school. However, it was common to have a black domestic maid cleaning the house, cooking the meals and looking after the children. This was also so for Stockett's family.
The Help tells the story of three women, Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. Skeeter returns home from college determined to become a writer. She turns her friends' lives as well as the small town of Jackson upside down when she decides to interview the black women who have spent their lives taking care of prominent southern families. Aibileen, Skeeter's best friend's housekeeper, is the first to open up and tell her story. This is much to the dismay of her friends in the black community. However, soon more women come forward to tell their stories. The stories are disturbing, but also funny. Through these personal narratives we gain insight into a segregated society, where black maids in white crisp uniforms cross the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to clean white houses and raise white children every day.
A film based on the novel was released in 2011. Watch the trailer.
- What can be said about the setting? What do you know about the American South in the 1960s?
- The novel is written from the point of view of Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny and all three of them voice their own stories. Listen to an excerpt of Aibileen's story. What is characteristic of the way she speaks English? Retell her story in "proper English." (The girl's name is Mae Mobley and her mother's name is Elizabeth Leefolt)
- Read this excerpt from Skeeter's story. In this excerpt Skeeter is visiting Aibileen to write down her story. Notice what Skeeter does to make Aibileen relax. Does anything surprise you? Do you notice lingusitic idiosyncrasies in this excerpt?