Thursday, September 3, 2009

Bicentennial


The Help
by Kathryn Stockett

First, about my title for this post - this is the 200th posting for Ex Libris Fides! I actually wish I were able to post a little more often - I hope at some point to go back to occasionally writing reflections on articles that I read, instead of only books. But, we do what we can, and I still think 200 is a milestone to be celebrated, so YAY!!

Anyway, if you are a reader of fiction, and if you like thought-provoking, moving, socially aware novels that make a point without getting preachy and that also tell an amazing story, then you MUST READ The Help. It is a compelling, honest, wrenching look at the relationships between white women and their black housekeepers in Mississippi just prior to the Civil Rights Movement. Stockett has drawn believable characters, and they mirror the complexity of real life human relationships. Not everyone is the same. There are some racist white characters who are truly repulsive, but some are just clueless and some are every bit as appalled by racism and Jim Crow laws as the black people. In different ways, everyone is caught in this unworkable system that demeans the black people and in the long run does not benefit anyone. The sad part is that some of the well-intentioned people do not know how to envision society differently, they are trapped in the way things have "always" been.

What The Help does so well is make the reader aware of some of the cognitive and spiritual dissonance that accompanied segregation. Some women required their housekeepers to eat on separate dishes, and use a separate bathroom (one built outside that no white person would use). At the same time, these same women would trust their black servants with the sacred task of raising their little white children. One character, Aibileen, describes the pain of loving these kids and knowing that the time will come when the children realize the difference between black skin and white skin and will no longer relate to their caretakers the same way.

Two of the main narrators in The Help are black character, and Kathryn Stockett is white. In an afterward to the book, Stockett describes the trepidation with which she wrote. She did not want to presume to describe the thoughts, experiences, and feelings of black people, but she believed this was a story that needed to be told. Stockett also lovingly describes the black woman (Demetrie) who raised her when her own mother was unavailable, and says that it was her relationship with Demetrie that made her want to look more closely at these complicated interactions between Southern whites and blacks. Posthumously, she thanks Demetrie for taking care of her and for forgiving her whole family for the way things were at the time. The combination of the novel and Stockett's personal reflections is really powerful.

This is one of the best novels I have read this year. I hope many people will read it, give thanks for the progress we have made, and think hard about what still needs to change.

Reverent Reader

2 Comments:

At 9/3/09, 12:44 PM , Blogger reverendmother said...

Congratulations!

I read every one of your posts and am so glad you're blogging.

I'm going to check this one out. Thanks!

 
At 9/7/09, 9:21 PM , Blogger Ruth said...

congratulations on 200! I look forward to reading articles and whatever you write. I am constantly telling the readers I know about your blog.

 

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