24 November 2011
Post 451: The Help
I have serious guilt issues about being white, you guys. And this book was all, "Nnnnnnggghhh, dammit Skeeter, you have no clue what is going on, do you?" There were even times where I wondered if the author understood what it meant for her, as a white person, to write this book. This book does an amazingly fantastic job of looking at the issue of race from the white (and totally unaware) viewpoint.
In fact, the story is mostly framed by the white point of view. Even though we do get to see glimpses from Aibileen and Minny about what their lives are like, they still seem to ring somewhat hollow in comparison to the richness and attention given to the development of Skeeter's character. Perhaps that is okay, but it would have been awesome if perhaps there was a suggested reading list (like this one) that provided a more accurate and in depth look at things from the Black American point of view, because The Help is definitely a whitewashed fairy tale version of the risks these women would have faced, along with ignoring other uncomfortable subject matter. On the other hand, this is the way white people deal with their guilt about subjugating and oppressing other races, so it makes sense that it would show up in this way in our literature.
If you're thinking about bitching to me about how it's Thanksgiving and you don't want to read stuff about race, I am going to glare at you and point you to an Indian reservation and ask whether you should be thankful your ancestors stole land, raped Native women, and gave children smallpox infected blankets. Also, calm down, I am getting to that.
One of the few authentic and redeeming passages of the book involved a brief moment between Skeeter and Pascagoula. Skeeter thanks her genuinely for the first time and it surprises Pascagoula. But I doubt that it ever occurs to Skeeter why that was surprising, and mostly it has to do with the general invisibility of women of color in this society unless someone needs a scapegoat. Even in the novel we see this, as white women try to figure out if they're in the book and if they should fire their maids. Then of course there was Minny who did not allow herself to melt into the background because she was "mouthy," which left her open as a frequent target despite her desirable skills. It seems even the novel took the stance of, "Well if she would have just kept her mouth shut..." Yet Minny is the one who has truly risked herself for the publication of Skeeter's book. While this is eventually recognized, it's almost too little too late.
So, to sum up, thank the people in your life who serve you, because they probably don't want to do it, and you have probably behaved like an asshole to them at some point. It's easier to say thank you and mean it than to prevent the people who make your food from serving you shit instead. And that, my friends, ought to be the real meaning of Thanksgiving (enjoy your pie).
The Reading Ape writes an apt reflection on the issues brought on by (reading and liking) The Help (while white).
LibsNote: Library copy via Overdrive Media.