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The three main characters of the novel, The Help, are the white journalist Miss Skeeter and the two black maids Aibileen and Minny. Miss Skeeter wants to write a book about the relationship between the black maids and their employers from the point of view of the help, something no one has ever done before. Aibileen and Minny help by telling Skeeter their own personal stories, knowing how dangerous it was back in the 1960s. Throughout the novel, we get to know the women, both in their own words and from the point of view of the others, since each chapter is narrated by one of the three. In The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, the author uses storytelling through the three main characters to shape the reader’s interpretation of the novel.
Skeeter is one of the most influential characters in the novel. She persuades Aibileen, Minny, and many other maids to share their stories so she can put them in her book. The novel itself deals with the topic of racism which has been a complex subject for a long time. Skeeter being a white writer from Mississippi 1960, for instance, can have a difficult time writing about racism because she not only grew up in a racist environment but especially because she tries to highlight the black people’s situation. Miss Skeeter is portrayed as nice and innocent. At the beginning of the book, she says, “by sixteen I wasn’t just not pretty, I was painfully tall. The kind of tall that puts a girl in the back row of class pictures with the boys. The kind of tall where your mother spends her nights taking down hems, yanking sweater sleeves, flattening your hair for dances you hadn’t been asked to”. Because Skeeter pictures herself as not pretty and tall, this could give the reader an innocent view of her. However, it could also indicate her as weak, and or in need of saving. Which is ironic because later in the novel she is shown to be the hero. Now her behavior for instance, towards her friends, exaggerates the feeling of her as weak. For instance, when Miss Skeeter and her friends Hilly and Elizabeth are talking to Aibileen while she serves them saled she starts to notice things she had not done before. “Hilly raises her voice about three octaves higher when she talks to colored people. Elizabeth smiles like she’s talking to a child”.
However, when Skeeter realizes how differently her friends treat black people she never says anything about their bad behavior. Skeeter is well aware that her friends are bothering Aibileen and chooses not to sand up for her at that moment. Buy not confronting Hill and Elizabeth, she lets them continue with their “belief in the natural superiority of white people. Furthermore, Stockett also describes Miss Skeeter as naïve. When she asks Aibileen if she wants to help her write the book, Aibileen answers “‘Miss Skeeter’, and I say it slow, try to make it count, I 17 do this with you, I might as well burn my own house down’“. Skeeter does not seem to realize how dangerous and scary it can be for colored people to tell their perspective in the relationship between white and black people. However, Stockett somehow still portrays Skeeter throughout the novel as the white and well educated good person and, to some extent, described as the hero of black people.
Although Minny is one of the main characters and narrators, we as the readers mostly see her as the other character in the room. For instance, the reader gets to know about her “terrible awful” already before Minny’s first chapter. However, the meaning of the “terrible awful” is not revealed until later. Still, what the reader could figure out is that she did something with her former employer, Miss Hilly’s, pie. A few pages in the novel Minny calls Aibileen and tells her “‘I ain’t telling. I ain’t telling nobody about that pie. But I give her what she deserve!’ … Ain’t no game crossing Miss Hilly. ‘I ain’t never gone get no work again, Leroy gone kill me’”. This is probably also the reason why she is so nervous about becoming a maid for Cecilia since she is afraid not to get work ever again. Moreover, the last sentence in this quote indicates that Minny is portrayed as victimized. Through Minny’s actions, she both obeys and resists the hegemonic white culture. Her act with the pie shows her resistance against the white system and its values, but she also tries to conform to the white norm by telling herself “to tuck it in. Consequently, it is not surprising to the reader that she does not trust white people. There is an example, in particular, that show this and it is when Miss Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny are discussing the book. “‘What makes 20 you think colored people need your help?’ Minny stands up, chair scraping. ‘Why you even care about this? You white’“. Minny is hesitant to trust Skeeter, and the reader understands that completely. Stockett uses Minny’s past experiences with white people to help the reader understand how scary it was for black people to step out of line even if it’s for a good cause such as sharing their stories with Sheeter.
The use of storytelling through Minny’s narration gives the reader a little taste of the hardships and struggles colored people went through in the 1960s. Aibileen is portrayed as a stereotypical maid throughout the novel, and in some cases, the Southern white construction of blackness is shown a number of times in the book also. She is really attached to Mae Mobley, the white child she takes care of. It even goes so far that when Mae Mobley and Aibileen discuss how many children Aibileen has, Mae Mobley says “I know, I’m your real baby”. Aibileen is, however, not only portrayed as the stereotypical maid, the Southern white construction of blackness is shown a number of times in the book. One example is when Mae Mobley goes to Aibileen’s toilet and her mother screams to her “this is dirty out here, Mae Mobley. You’ll catch diseases! No no no!”. In the novel, white and black people were supposed to have separate bathrooms since according to the white people, black people were dirty. This in itself tells about one of the many contradictions that occur in the novel.
On the one hand, the colored people are not allowed to use the whites’ bathrooms because they have diseases and are dirty. On the other hand, white people want them to clean their houses, cook their food and take care of their children. Furthermore, Aibileen compares herself with a cockroach: 21 That night after supper, me and that cockroach stare at each other down across the kitchen floor. He big, inch, inch an a half. He black. Blacker than me. This could indicate that there are not only the white people who have a patronizing attitude towards black people, but Aibileen looks down on herself too. To compare herself with an insect, a pest is to acknowledge herself as dirty and potentially harmful. The interpretation the reader gets from how Aibileen’s story is told is that colored people are just like everyone else and because of how cruel white people were Aibileen begins to look down on herself.
In conclusion, Stockett uses storytelling through the three main characters to portray how the reader interprets the novel. For instance, Miss Skeeter is portrayed at times as week or in need of saving but then Stockett makes it out to be Skeeter being the hero of colored people. Minny is seen by the reader as a victim because so many bad things happen to her through the novel such as her getting fired and being beaten by her husband. Aibileen is seen as your stereotypical black maid, although she also plays a part in the Southern white construction of blackness. The use of storytelling is extremely important in Stockett’s novel because it helps the reader see what it was like to be a colored man or women in the 1960s.
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