The Help is one of those books that has been on my reading list for a long while. It’s not one that I can remember who it was that told me to read it, but when I was recently forced to leave it unchecked on a how well read are you quiz I knew it was time to get a copy. Given its setting and subject it also made the perfect addition to my all American reading pile while living stateside. I bought a copy on the day that I discovered a beautiful Barnes & Noble within walking distance of my apartment, unable as I am to visit a bookshop and leave empty handed.
The Help is a poignant and powerful tale that deals with themes of race, prejudice and inequality in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. We meet Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, a white socialite who, much to her mother’s annoyance, dreams of being a journalist while her socialite friends are getting married and having children. After applying for a job in publishing in New York, she is encouraged by the editor to put forward an idea for a book, and, inspired by the treatment of the coloured help in both her own and her friends’ households, she begins to write.
With the help of Aibileen Clark – a black, God-loving and church going maid who is currently working for Mrs. Elizabeth Leefolt, one of Skeeter’s best friends – Skeeter interviews a number of the local maids, to find out what it’s really like to work as a maid in 1960s Mississippi. She uncovers the maltreatment and discrimination many of the maids face, and makes it her mission to bring to the surface the truths hidden behind many a closed door of socialites in the deep south.
In doing so, however, she soon realises that as well as risking her own reputation and relationships, she’s putting in danger the maids’ livelihood, but, having come so far, they encourage her to continue her feat of revealing to the masses what it’s really like to be the coloured help.
Fast-moving and compelling, The Help is as brilliant as it is brutal in its honesty. A confronting read that brings to life the racism that was so rife in American only a few decades ago, it’s an important story that has given a powerful voice to the too-often unheard.
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