Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I recently read this amazing book by Kathryn Stockett, entitled The Help. The book is set in 1962 at the height of racial tensions in Jackson, Mississippi and I thought it was quite a wonderful read.

The first amazing thing about it are the voices Ms. Stockett uses to tell the story. She writes in the first person from the perspective of several characters, each getting their own dedicated chapters .

The story is about several women in that era, a few of whom are white housewives with maids, then, the maids themselves, and then the main white character who is a young women that does not readily fit the typical phenotype of the Southern housewife of the time and eventually finds her own way.

There are so many threads to the story but it is really riveting. One of the threads illustrates the interesting relationship these young bourgeois mothers/wives had with their children. Some of them left much of the child rearing to their African American maids, while they simultaneously treated those co-humans as sub-human, relegating them to separate washroom facilities in the house, separate tableware, etc. The irony and hypocrisy of entrusting the most important thing in one's life, their children, to someone for whom they had no respect is somewhat mind-boggling.

Another interesting thread was how severely the white ladies could punish the maids that had in some way "wronged" them by essentially black-listing them, preventing them from working again thereby causing them hardship, poverty and sometimes crimes of desperation. Although much of the history of the era emphasizes the overt violence and meanness of the men, the women could be even more destructive while keeping their hands essentially bloodless.

Finally, the way the white people treated other whites who were branded as sympathetic to the civil rights cause was also very telling. Unemployable, unmarriable, ostracized. Those few brave souls who felt strong enough to take a stand were akin to excommunicated by the racist white community.

I realize I am a native north-easterner and that there is no way I can ever understand the pride of the south thing. But we are talking about a mere ~40 years ago. Doesn't it just make for a better life if we all try to just get along??

It also makes me embarrassed about news I recently heard of from the homeland of my ancestors just a few days back, namely, race riots in Calabria involving African immigrants that were retaliating against the shooting death of two of their co-workers. Perhaps it is a reflection on their ignorance and own desperation for jobs etc. that would cause them (i.e. the whites who have been committing the hate crimes) to behave in such a barbaric manner. It seems once again that despite numerous history lessons, humans have trouble learning from past mistakes.

1 comment:

  1. Interestingly, while waiting for a mammogram recently, there were not one but two women in the waiting room reading this book...