It’s been a while since I’ve written a book review. (Mostly because it’s been a while since I’ve finished a book.) Today I will be reviewing The Help by Kathryn Stockett. The book itself wasn’t all that bad, but I don’t have a ton of great things to say about it. While I recognize that others might have different perceptions, most of what I got out of it were failed attempts of making the struggle against racism look all hunky-dory and frail hints of female empowerment.
The book presents a view of the 60’s that not many usually think about. A view of the world from the eyes of individual black, female, domestic workers is a fresh concept that I haven’t seen a lot of when reading about the segregated south. Oftentimes, I think that people forget to think about the individuals when looking at a social movement, and tend to focus on the movement as a whole. Focusing on the individuals can have a profound effect on the perceptions of a person observing a social movement. It tends to add a bit of personality and depth to a big scary crowd. From this, one might deduce that we should always be focusing on the individual as opposed to solely focusing on the whole. To this, I would disagree.
This is where The Help falls short. The author, Kathryn Stockett, spends almost all of her time focusing on the individual characters in the novel and no time focusing on the world outside of their personal lives. The result is a severe lack of context. If I wasn’t already educated on the civil rights movement, I might not know enough to take away a message from the novel. Even worse, it might downplay the severity of the issues discussed in the novel. In the end, nothing really *really * bad happened in the lives of the main characters – the most that happened were a few bad things to characters that didn’t have big roles.
As a reader, this left me with questions. For one, how is it that all of these black women could trash their white bosses in segregated Mississippi and the only consequence was a few lost jobs and some mean words being thrown around. In a perfect world this might have been the case, but I feel that in the real world things would have been much worse. And if this were a perfect world, like the author wants us to believe, then why on earth is there a racism issue to begin with. People, and their problems, just aren’t that simple and neither is the world.
All in all the author did a good job of writing a feel good story about some women who, against all odds, escaped the flak from angry white people in 1960’s Mississippi. The only issue I have, is that maybe it shouldn’t be a feel good story. When we look at something as terrible as the world prior to the civil rights movement, we probably shouldn’t see it has how great life became immediately following an act of protest – because that isn’t how it happened at all. Thousands of people died fighting for their civil rights, and the rewards were not reaped overnight.
In the world today, people tend to think that these bad things couldn’t ever happen again and that we’re all just too educated to let it happen. As much as I wish I could say that this was true, it simply isn’t. Racism is still rampant in the world today, as well as many other forms of hate such as antisemitism and homophobia.
Writing a feel good novel about these issues isn’t going to change the nature of what they are, or make them disappear.