I read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help back in 2011 which seems like so long ago now! I was sick recently and looking through my bookshelves for a familiar good book, something that would have the same effect as comfort food when you’re feeling down, and the bright yellow spine of The Help was practically jumping out at me so I knew it was time for a re-read.
Even though this was only my second time reading this book with several years in between the first read, I was surprised by how much remembered. The awful Hilly Holbrook, Elizabeth Leefolt’s careless abuse of her daughter, Celia Foote’s unsuccessful attempt to keep her maid a secret from her husband, Aibileen’s quietly convincing all the maids she knows to help with Skeeter’s book…it all came flooding back as rediscovered this beautiful story.
Two characters that I found a new appreciation for, however, are Aibileen and Celia. Of course Aibileen is probably everyone’s favorite character, but what really stood out to me on this second read was how she treats the children of the people she works for. Her continued attempts to instill goodness in them before they grow up and realize that she is black and they are white and that that must mean something, (and, her biggest fear, that they will think it means something bad) is what she is trying to prevent.
Around the time Aibileen chants her mantra you is kind, you is smart, you is important to little Mae Mobley, she also begins telling her “secret stories” every morning after her parents have left. These secret stories are special time between Aibileen and Mae Mobley, and give Mae Mobley some quiet, loving time that her mother would never give her. They also give Aibileen a chance to creatively instill some morals in Aibileen. This excerpt is so profound that I just really wanted to share it:
“Come on, Aibee,” Mae Molbley say to me after her mama gone. “Time for my secret story…”
“Today I’m on tell you bout a man from outer space.” She just loves hearing about peoples from outer space. Her favorite show on the tee-vee is My Favorite Martian. I pull out my antennae hats I shaped last night out a tinfoil, fasten em on our heads. One for her and one for me. We look like we a couple a crazy people in them things.
“One day, a wise Martian come down to Earth to teach us people a thing or two,” I say.
“Martian? How big?”
“Oh, he about six-two.”
“What’s his name?”
“Martian Luther King.”
She take a deep breath and lean her head down on my shoulder. I feel her three-year-old heart racing against mine, flapping like butterflies on my white uniform.
“He was a real nice Martian, Mister King. Looked just like us, nose, mouth, hair up on his head, but sometimes people looked at him funny and sometime, well, I guess sometime people was just downright mean.”
I could get in a lot of trouble telling her these little stories, especially with Mister Leefolt. But Mae Mobley know these our ‘secret stories’.
“Why Aibee? Why was they so mean to him?” she ask
“Cause he was green.”
Three cheers for Aibileen! That’s just one of the ingenious ways she’s taught Mae Mobley about race and does so in a way a child can comprehend. Aibileen knows that Elizabeth Leefolt’s behavior will no doubt seep into Mae Mobley as she gets older but she wants to beat her to it and instill good values and kindness in her. She keeps the stories a secret and worries that Mae Mobley will repeat them and get her in trouble, but the risk is worth it.
I also have to touch on Celia’s character because I found new sentiments for her, too. Her desperate attempts to befriend Hilly Holbrook and all of the society ladies of Jackson is downright pitiful but her persistence is unmatched. She hasn’t a clue why these ladies look down on her, and it takes Minny explaining to her that it’s because they think she’s white trash and a man-stealer. Even so, Celia doesn’t let that break her down, it just makes her more determined to set things right between them so the air can be cleared and they can all be friends.
On first glance, Celia really does not have a lot going for her. She can’t cook for her husband, she doesn’t know anything about housework, she lives a long ways outside of Jackson, and she has a huge house perfect for children and yet she cannot have them. You would think she would be depressed all of the time, which most of the time she is, but she tries so hard to be liked, to be helpful and friendly. She reaches out to Minny with kindness and although is almost always misinterpreted, it goes a long way to Minny. It just seemed like her character was really meant to showcase more about social issues than I previously realized, and soon the chapters with Minny going to work at Celia’s house became my favorite because she was so endearing.
I poked around on the internet a little and found a short interview of Stockett reading a great passage from the book. I always love hearing the actual voice of the person who wrote the book, don’t you? She is so candid in this interview about the criticisms she’s received for choosing to write this book in the voice of a black woman in the 1960s, and how she’s just glad the conversation has been opened. The Help is full of inspiring women and the reminder that you do not have to be loud to make a statement, or start a movement.