The Help Aibileen Essay Contest

This article is about the novel. For the film adaptation, see The Help (film). For the unrelated TV series, see The Help (TV series).

The Help is a 2009 novel by American author Kathryn Stockett. The story is about African Americans working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi, during the early 1960s.

A USA Today article called it one of the "summer sleeper hits."[1] An early review in The New York Times notes Stockett's "affection and intimacy buried beneath even the most seemingly impersonal household connections" and says the book is a "button-pushing, soon to be wildly popular novel."[2] The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said of the book: "This heartbreaking story is a stunning début from a gifted talent."[3]

Stockett began writing the novel - her first - after the September 11th attacks[4]. It took her five years to complete and was rejected by 60 literary agents, over a period of three years,[5] before agent Susan Ramer agreed to represent Stockett.[6][7]The Help has since been published in 35 countries and three languages.[8] As of August 2011, it had sold seven million copies in print and audiobook editions,[9] and spent more than 100 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list.[10][11]

The Help's audiobook version is narrated by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, and Cassandra Campbell. Spencer was Stockett's original inspiration for the character of Minny, and also plays her in the film adaptation.[6]

Plot summary[edit]

The Help is set in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, and told primarily from the first-person perspectives of three women: Aibileen Clark, Minny Jackson, and Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan. Aibileen is a maid who takes care of children and cleans. Her own 24-year-old son, Treelore, died from an accident on his job. In the story, she is tending the Leefolt household and caring for their toddler, Mae Mobley. Minny is Aibileen's friend who frequently tells her employers what she thinks of them, resulting in her having been fired from nineteen jobs. Minny's most recent employer was Mrs. Walters, mother of Hilly Holbrook.

Skeeter is the daughter of a white family who owns a cotton farm outside Jackson. Many of the field hands and household help are African Americans. Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from the University of Mississippi and wants to become a writer. Skeeter's mother wants her to get married, and thinks her degree is just a pretty piece of paper. Skeeter is curious about the disappearance of Constantine, her maid who brought her up and cared for her. Constantine had written to Skeeter while she was away from home in college saying what a great surprise she had awaiting her when she came home. Skeeter's mother tells her that Constantine quit and went to live with relatives in Chicago. Skeeter does not believe that Constantine would leave her like this; she knows something is wrong and believes that information will eventually come out. Everyone Skeeter asks about the unexpected disappearance of Constantine pretends it never happened and avoids giving her any real answers.

The life Constantine led while being the help to the Phelan family leads Skeeter to the realization that her friends' maids are treated very differently from the way the white employees are treated. She decides (with the assistance of a publisher) that she wants to reveal the truth about being a colored maid in Mississippi. Skeeter struggles to communicate with the maids and gain their trust. The dangers of writing a book about African Americans speaking out in the South during the early 1960s hover constantly over the three women.

Eventually Skeeter wins Aibileen’s trust through a friendship which develops while Aibileen helps Skeeter write a household tips column for the local newspaper. Skeeter accepted the job to write the column as a stepping stone to becoming a writer/editor, as was suggested by Elaine Stein, editor at Harper & Row, even though she knows nothing about cleaning or taking care of a household, since that is the exclusive domain of ‘the help.’ The irony of this is not lost on Skeeter, and she eventually offers to pay Aibileen for the time and expertise she received from her.

Elaine Stein had also suggested to Skeeter that she find a subject to write about which she can be dedicated to and passionate about. Skeeter realizes that she wants to expose to the world in the form of a book the deplorable conditions the maids in the South endure in order to barely survive. Unfortunately such an exposé is a dangerous proposition, not just for Skeeter, but for any maids who agree to help her. Aibileen finally agrees to tell her story. Minny, despite her distrust of whites, eventually agrees as well, but she and Aibileen are unable to convince others to tell their stories. Skeeter researches several laws governing what blacks still can and cannot do in Mississippi, and her growing opposition to the racial order results in her being shunned by her social circle.

Yule May, Hilly's maid, is arrested for stealing one of Hilly's rings to pay her twin sons’ college tuition after Hilly refused to lend the money. The other maids decide that they are willing to take a chance with their jobs, and their safety, and join the book project.

Thus the thrust of the book is the collaborative project between the white Skeeter and the struggling, exploited “colored” help, who together are writing a book of true stories about their experiences as the ‘help’ to the white women of Jackson. Not all the stories are negative, and some describe beautiful and generous, loving and kind events; while others are cruel and even brutal. The book, entitled “Help” is finally published, and the final chapters of “The Help” describe the aftermath of the books’ appearance in Jackson.

Film adaptation[edit]

Main article: The Help (film)

A film adaptation of The Help was released on August 10, 2011.[12] Stockett's childhood friend Tate Taylor wrote and directed the film.[13]

Parts of The Help were shot in Jackson, MS, but the film was primarily shot in and around Greenwood, MS, representing Jackson in 1963.[14]

At the 84th Academy Awards, Octavia Spencer won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in this film. The film also received three other Academy Award nominations: Academy Award for Best Picture, Academy Award for Best Actress for Viola Davis, and Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Jessica Chastain.[15]

Lawsuit[edit]

Ablene Cooper, a housekeeper who once worked for Stockett's brother, criticized the author for stealing her life story without her knowledge and basing the character Aibileen on her likeness. Cooper sued Stockett for $75,000 in damages. Cooper also criticized her for making the negative comparison of her character's skin color to that of a cockroach, which to many would be interpreted as racist.[16] A Hinds County, Mississippi judge dismissed the case, citing the statute of limitations.[17] Stockett denied her claim of stealing her likeness, stating that she only met her briefly.[17][18]

Awards and honors[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^Memmott, Carol (July 31, 2008). "Kate Stockett's 'The Help' is the hot book this summer". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-10-20. 
  2. ^Maslin, Janet (February 18, 2009). "Racial Insults and Quiet Bravery in 1950s Mississippi". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-20. 
  3. ^Dollacker, Sarah Sacha (February 1, 2009). "Segregation tale describes bond of women". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 6 December 2009. 
  4. ^Suddath, Claire. "Kathryn Stockett, Author of The Help". Time. Retrieved 3 November 2017. 
  5. ^Maggie, Galehouse. "A Conversation with "The Help" author, Kathryn Stockett". Chron. Retrieved 3 November 2017. 
  6. ^ abCalkin, Jessamy (July 16, 2009). "The maid's tale: Kathryn Stockett examines slavery and racism in America's Deep South". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2009-10-20. 
  7. ^"Kathryn Stockett's 'The Help' Turned Down 60 Times Before Becoming a Best Seller". More Magazine. 
  8. ^Kehe, Marjorie (May 14, 2010). "With book sales still strong, 'The Help' will begin filming". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2010-05-26. 
  9. ^Lewis, Andry (26 August 2011). "'The Help's' Strong Box Office Bumps Up Book Sales". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 6 January 2017. 
  10. ^Williams, Wyatt. "Kathryn Stockett: Life in the belle jar". Creative Loafing Atlanta. Retrieved 4 August 2011. 
  11. ^D'Souza, Karen. "'The Help' is poised to become chick flick of the summer". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 4 August 2011. 
  12. ^"Mississippi: The Filming Locations of The Help". Locations Hub. September 14, 2011. Retrieved 20 May 2014. 
  13. ^Fleming, Michael (15 December 2009). "Chris Columbus fast-tracks 'Help'". Variety. 
  14. ^"Mississippi: The Filming Locations of The Help". Locations Hub. September 14, 2011. Retrieved 20 May 2014.  
  15. ^"Nominees and Winners for the 84th Academy Awards". Oscars.org. Retrieved 20 May 2014. 
  16. ^Churcher, Sharon (4 September 2011). "Her family hired me as a maid for 12 years but then she stole my life and made it a Disney movie". The Daily Mail. London. Retrieved 12 September 2011. 
  17. ^ abMitchell, Jerry. "'The Help' lawsuit tossed out". The Clarion Ledger. 
  18. ^Chaney, Jen (16 August 2011). "'The Help' lawsuit against Kathryn Stockett is dismissed". The Washington Post. Retrieved 24 May 2012. 

 

 

**** DEAR STUDENTS, and anyone else who has been assigned this book. While I occasionally answer reader questions, it is not a daily function of this blog. ****

 

 

Plenty of black men leave their families behind like trash in a dump, but it’s not something the colored woman do. We’ve got the kids to think aboutMinny Jackson (Pg 311)

Viola Davis as Aibileen and Octavia Spencer as Minny in the film The Help

“You is kind, you is smart. You is important.” Mae Mobley (Pg 443)

They are scared, looking at the back door every ten minutes, afraid they’ll get caught talking to me. Afraid they’ll be beaten like Louvenia’s grandson, or, hell, bludgeoned in their front yard like Medgar Evers.* (Pg 277 *error in the book. Medgar Evers was shot, not bludgeoned. The novel even has the character of Minny stating Evers’ was shot)

I might as well be Little Stevie Wonder I am so blinded by that dressMinny Jackson (Pg 317)

“I’ve been thinking about you. You’re smart, you’re pretty, you’re…tall.” Stuart Whitworth, the state senator’s son to Skeeter, his date (Pg 171)

“I hope you write someting really good. Something you believe in” –Stuart  Whitworth speaking to Skeeter (Pg 171)

“It’s called the Home Help Sanitation Initiative- ” Hilly Holbrook (Pg 60)

“A bill that requires every white home to have a separate bathroom for the colored help. I’ve even notified the surgeon general of Mississippi to see if he’ll endorse the idea.” Hilly Holbrook (Pg 9)

“What you think I am? A chauffeur? I ain’t driving you to no country club in the pouring rain.” – Minny Jackson (Pg 17)

“Are you…do you find …find men attractive? Are you having unnatural thoughts about…girls or-or women?” –Charlotte Phelan (Pg 75)

I am neither thrilled nor disappointed by the news that they might let a colored man into Ole Miss, just surprised. – Skeeter (Pg 83)

“I say ‘ That good vanilla from Mexico’  and then I go head. I tell her what else I put in that pie for her.” Minny revealing the Terrible Awful secret to Miss Celia (Pg 339)

“Mother, I want to be with girls as much as you’d like to be with …Jameso.”  Skeeter (Pg 75)

“All these houses they’re building without maid’s quarters? It’s just plain dangerous. Everybody knows they carry different kinds of diseases than we do.” Hilly Holbrook  (Pg eight)

And Miss Skeeter asking don’t I want to change things, like changing Jackson, Mississippi, gone be like changing a lightbulb.Aibileen (Pg 24)

“If I didn’t hit you Minny, who knows what you become.” Leroy to Minny (Pg 413)

I told him don’t drink coffee or he gone turn colored. He say he still ain’t drunk a cup a coffee and he twenty-one years old. It’s always nice to see the kids grown up fine. (Aibileen Pg 91)

Yule May easy to recognize from the back cause she got such good hair, smooth, no nap to it.  (Pg 208)

“We was all surprised Constantine would go and… get herself in a family way. Some folks at church wasn’t so kind about it, especially when the baby come out white. Even though the father was black as me.” Aibileen to Skeeter (Pg 358)

“I’m ashamed. Sometimes, Senator. Ashamed of what goes on in Mississippi.” Carlton Phelan Skeeter’s father (Pg 268)

“I told Shirley Boon her ass won’t fit on no stool at Woolworth’s anyway.” Minny (Pg 217)

“And then they dropped him off at the colored hospital. That’s what the nurse told me, who was standing outside. They rolled him off the truck bed and the white men drove away.” Aibileen to Skeeter (Pg 153)

“You know, its no wonder Stuart Whitworth dropped you.” Hilly talking to Skeeter. (Pg 280)

What would Constantine think of me? Skeeter (Pg 281)

“Remember I told you Constantine had a daughter. Well, Lulabelle was her name. Law, she come out pale as snow. Grew hair the color a hay. Not curly like yours. Straight it was.” Aibileen to Skeeter (Pg 358)

“She looked white as anybody, and she knew it too.” Charlotte Phelan talking to Skeeter about Lulabelle, Constantine’s now fully grown daughter.  (Pg 362)

“I told Lulabelle the truth. I told her, “Your daddy didn’t die. He left the day after you were born. And your mama hadn’t been sick a day in her life. She gave you up because you were too high yellow. She didn’t want you.” Charlotte Phelan to Sketter (Pg 364)

“It’s not the same with Pascagoula here, is it?” she says.

“No” I say. It’s not.” This is the first time she’s mentioned Constantine since our terrible discussion.

“They say its like true love, good help. You only get one a lifetime.”

I nod, thinking I should write that down. But of course, include it in the book. But of course its too late, it’s already been mailed. There’s nothing I can do, nothing any of us can do now, except wait for what’s coming.Charlotte Phelan speaking with Skeeter (Pg 372)

“Go shopping…get some new clothes. Go do whatever white women do when the maid’s home.”  Minny speaking to Miss Celia (Pg 51)

“Cat got on the porch this morning, bout gave me a cadillac arrest thinking it was Mister Johnny.” Minny (Pg 48)

“Say maybe she getting mal-nutritious.” Aibileen to Minny, (Pg 14)

“That ugly white fool” Minny (Pg 292)

“I got me a knife!” Minny (Pg 307)

“I never thought Constantine would go to Illinois with her, Eugenia. Honestly, I was…sorry to see her go.” Charlotte Phelan to Skeeter, on Constantine leaving with her daughter Lulabelle for Chicago  (Pg 365)

“The book is not about Jackson!”Hilly to the bridge club ladies after Skeeter’s novel comes out. (Pg 428)

She roll her eyes and stick her tongue out like I handed her a plate a dog biscuits. “I knew you was getting senile,” she say.  Aibileen, noting Minny’s expression before she answers. (Pg 430)

“Who taught you those things, Mae Mobley?” Mister Leefolt say and Baby Girl whip her head around with eyes like she seed a ghost.Aibileen watching Raleigh Leefolt speak to Mae Mobley (Pg 431)

My mouth drop open. Why she never tell me this before? “You saying people think I got the black magic?” Aibileen speaking to Minny (Pg 24)

“Please. Find you another colored maid. A young’un. Somebody. . .else.”

“But I don’t know any others well enough.” I am tempted to bring up the word friends, but I’m not that naïve. I know we’re not friends. (Skeeter speaking with Aibileen Pg 109)

He black. Blacker than me. (Pg 189) Aibileen, comparing her complexion to a roach

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