Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I’ve been in a blogging rut lately, not so much along the lines of “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, think I’ll go eat worms”; more “I know nothing, everyone else knows everything, I may as well just not write.”

It started with a Grudem book (more on this later in the week) but reached its pinnacle after I finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett last week. Before I talk about the book, though, rewind with me to around a week and a half ago, just a few days before my friend lent it to me: I’d started reading a negative review of The Help but gave up after being warned that the post contained spoilers. “I may want to read this someday,” I’d thought to myself, little knowing that day would be Sunday. And then Monday. And Tuesday morning.

So I read the book. And I loved the book. It’s the closest to literally unputdownable that I’ve read in a long, long time; my husband had to forbid me from continuing to read it on the Monday night or else I wouldn’t have slept (he’s so mean). I thought the writing was brilliant – I was entirely swept up by Stockett’s storytelling and dying to know how the book would end. And though the ending wasn’t completely satisfying, I floated around for the next few days on a rare great-novel-high.

Of course, I then had to go back to the review I’d originally seen to find out what negative things could possibly be said about it, and that’s about the time that I realised that I know absolutely nothing. NUSSINK! If you haven’t read the book, stop here and return to the end of this post once you’re done (if you want to) - that includes you, Miss Sophie-Lee! I want you to have the pleasure of reading the book untarnished by the following... See you soon (and ENJOY)!

Mmmkay. So the review (as well as the comments and the links from this review) rightly point out the racial stereotypes that are perpetuated by this book: It’s yet another white-person-rescues-black-person story; yet another story written about black people by a white person (both the author Kathryn Stockett, and also Skeeter in the book); yet another story where the white people benefit (Skeeter escapes; Stockett becomes rich and famous) and the black people... well, who knows what’ll happen to them? And it’s yet another story where the black people are the help, not the heroes. I appreciated reading this post and also this statement for an African American perspective on the book and film.

I hate that I notice gender stereotypes because I’m female, but race stereotypes easily pass me by because I’m white; that just reeks of self-centredness, and it sucks to rediscover how self-centred I am. At one point in all of this I even tried to convince myself that the black/white issue was bigger in America than it is here, though it wasn’t long before I remembered some of the shocking statistics I learned at uni, such as the average life span of an Indigenous Australian compared to a non-Indigenous (17 years less), and sunk back down into my rut. I hadn’t even considered the fact that we see more African Americans than Indigenous Australians on our television and cinema screens - and that's saying a LOT - until I read the articles I've linked to above.


Now I just feel conflicted about this book. I have no idea how I would rate it if asked, having responded to it twice: Once from a naïve first impression and once from an only-slightly-more-informed second one. I'm not even sure how to end this post...

[awkward silence]

P.S. It seems there’s a middle ground, which is somewhat comforting.

P.P.S. Sorry about all of the links! If you only want to click on one, read the statement.

P.P.P.S. The stop sign’s from here.

P.P.P.P.S. ...I forget.


  1. Ok so I consider myself somewhat informed on the issue considering I did some American History stuff on this at uni and still I think that the review has it wrong in some ways. Kathryn Stockett never pretended that she wasn't a white woman writing from her own perspectives. In the back of the book she says she feels inadequate writing such a book but wanted to try. Also, it's fiction and she makes that clear. Yes, it draws on some aspects of American history that sadly are true but the intent I assume was to write a book that was entertaining, engaging and somewhat informative through the characters. I think Aibleen not to mention Minny would be mighty upset (if she were real) to think that after reading this book people thought her story was just that of another black woman being 'rescued' by a white woman. I think she rescued Skeeter. It's also a book many more will read because of its accessibility because it isn't trying to write about every aspect. I think Stockett actually writes with respect and a voice that acknowledges that she may be presenting a story that doesn't show everything and that may seem simple.

    That's not to say I don't think we should consider the above but I think there's a place for art (and stories) to simply tell a story that helps us look to the biggest story of all and consider our part in it.

    Mind you, I am biased. I am the friend that raved about it and lent you the book in the first place :)

  2. Whoa, 10 points for the longest comment on this blog ever!

    I'm still unsure how I feel about it... I don't think Aibileen's small story is one of black person being rescued by a white person, but the big story kind of is - she was obviously a gifted writer, so she could have written and edited the book and received the credit that ended up going to Skeeter. Imagine if SHE then got a job based on the reference of Ms. NY Publisher Lady (can't remember her name) and moved away?

    Did you read the statement? I thought it was interesting that it mentioned the misrepresentation of African American speech - that was one of the things I really enjoyed about the book! You said "Stockett ...writes with respect" - I wonder if from a white perspective it looks as if Stockett was respectful, but from a black perspective it's just offensive.

    I think if anyone writes from the point of view of someone they're not - man writing as woman, rich person writing as pauper, white person writing as black - what they write will be scrutinised more than the writing of someone who only speaks of what they completely relate to. I think that's justified, and no doubt Stockett expected the negative responses. I also think that writing from another perspective is a good way of understanding another person's situation, which is what Stockett seemed to be doing...

    Still not sure! But THANK YOU for lending me the book, I'm really glad I read it. :o)


    PS I read the help after this blog post. I also enjoyed it.