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The Help's Reflection of Racial Prejudice and Social Commentary in 1960s Mississippi

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Words: 1792 |

Pages: 4|

9 min read

Published: Feb 13, 2024

Words: 1792|Pages: 4|9 min read

Published: Feb 13, 2024

Bing! Bang! Cling! Clang! The sound of African American maids hard at work in Mississippi during the 1960s:

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Whites believe they have finally grasped the existential pathos of black southern life in the 1960s but blacks beg to differ, pointing to the cavalier dismissal of white supremacist violence and the tone-deaf representation that fails to see or acknowledge their humanity, as well as refuses to grasp how white privilege is propped up by institutionalized racism and racial bigotry (Jones 1).

African Americans and whites have a different view on The Help and some hope it reveals common humanity. Back then in the 19602 with nobody realizing it, people of color and whites had a lot in common and not much separated their personalities. In the novel The Help, author Kathryn Stockett exposes racial prejudice and bigotry of black southern life through the treatment of African American maids in the south during the 1960s.

Kathryn Stockett studied creative writing and English at the University of Alabama. Stockett altered her interest in literary work while working in Atlanta. Kathryn Stockett is not like most other famous authors, she is only known for her only novel The Help, which was quietly rejected by 60 literary agents. The Help was published in 2009 after 5 years of hard work and dedication to her writing project. “The reception of Kathryn Stockett's The Help (2009) calls to mind the reception of two other novels about race relations by southern white writers: Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind (1936) and William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967)”(Jones 1). Like these other novels, The Help has become a cultural phenomenon because of the bold line Stockett crossed by writing in the voice of a black person. Stockett worries that she has told both too much and too little in her story of African American domestics and the white southern ladies they work for in 1960s Mississippi, as she explains in her afterword. Susan Donaldson describes it as a “ wildly popular novel quite simply appropriates an African American story and turns it into one of white guilt, redemption, reconciliation, and triumph, a transformation that is all too common in white southern storytelling”. The inspiration for The Help came from Kathryn Stockett’s childhood. Stockett says, “I've spent years imagining what her answer would be, and that's why I wrote this book,” (Donaldson 1). Above everything, writing this novel allowed her to ask her real-life African American maid, Demetrie, the unspoken question of her childhood, “What was it like working for Stockett's fragmented white family?” (Donaldson 1).

Stockett recited her life as a child in the South in Jackson, Mississippi where there was an equal population of white and African Americans. However, she never saw African Americans receiving equal treatment as whites. Her childhood memories of African Americans consist of them being used as domestic help for white people. She assumed this treatment as a traditional affair. The novel takes place in the 1960s, which is the era of the Jim Crow Laws. During this period, race defined one’s place in society. Jim Crow Laws placed strict restrictions on the African American townspeople. The laws promoted segregation of African Americans from the whites, and it created a negative sense of superiority for the white people. African Americans were separated from the white people in every aspect of their lives, except it was always more inhumane. Poor treatment of African Americans from the white people came from stereotypes created by the segregation and unequal treatment of African Americans. White people viewed African Americans as less intelligent, lazy, and less valuable. These stereotypes caused white people to constantly treat African Americans poorly. The goal of social commentary is to encourage change. Stockett’s The Help draws attention to the mistreatment and inequality of not only African American Maids but all people of color back in the 1960s

Social commentary is the act of using vocal means to provide commentary and draw attention to issues in society. This is often done with the idea of implementing or promoting change by informing the general prejudice about a given problem and appealing to people's sense of justice. Social commentary can be practiced through all forms of communication, from a printed form to conversations.

Stockett portrays the problem of racism experienced by African Americans through maids in her novel, The Help. Shes does this by describing the three shameful lives of African Americans maids, and their harsh living conditions in the South. As depicted in the novel, the maid Aibileen says, “I use my colored bathroom from now on and then I go on and Clorox the white bathroom again real good,” (Stockett 14). Stockett shows through Aibileen that it is deemed acceptable for an African American woman to clean up a white bathroom, but it is unacceptable for her to use it. This shows the nature of race relations and racial prejudice at the time. As the writer, Skeeter, experiences these stories she tells herself “I am in the old Jackson kitchens with the maids, hot and sticky in their white uniforms. I feel the gentle bodies of white babies breathing against me. I feel what Constantine felt when Mother brought me home from the hospital and handed me over to her. I let their colored memories draw me out of my own miserable life”(Donaldson 275). Skeeter increasingly becomes aware of the feelings of rage by the fellow maids as they are hurting from the senseless rules of the Jim Crow Laws. Furthermore, Kathryn Stockett incorporates a piece where Elaine Stein writes a letter to Skeeter offering advice which states “Write about what disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else”(Stockett 83). This shows that Skeeter takes the advice and thinks about her maid in which she tells her about the horrible treatment other maids get. This sparks a revolution and Skeeter is partaking in a task that nobody wants to get involved and ultimately brings her to write her book. That is why this quote from her book agent is so important because it brings her to realize the mistreatment of African American maids and hopefully expose the treatment to her city, New York. While being in the South gathering information on her book she begins to focus on two main aspects of living in the south. There is a tight bond to tradition and the suffocating heat. Skeeter explains “It is 1963. The Space Age they're calling it. A man has circled the earth in a rocketship. They've invented a pill so married women don't have to get pregnant. A can of beer opens with a single finger instead of a can opener. Yet my parents' house is still as hot as it was in 1899, the year my Great-grandfather built it”(Stockett 280). She points out that the 1960s have been full of many technological advances, but racial bigotry had remained the same for almost a century. Even though rocket ships circled the earth, there are still separate bathrooms for whites and people of color. As well as that Kathryn Stockett adds in a crucial scene stating “One scene that raised an uproar among viewers concerns a chocolate pie that Minny baked with Hilly's excrement. At one stage of the manuscript, there was a subtlety--that is, the reader was not supposed to know if Minny actually did or did not make such a pie”(Mchaney 1). What Stockett asserts is the powerful idea of the metaphor of reversing the positions of the Other, a means for Minny to be in the dominant role. It also shows the idiocy of life back in the 1960s, that relationships among human beings should be determined and destroyed by toilets and feces. Another good example of Stockett exposing the bigotry and prejudice is when she talks with Aibileen. Aibileen says “Thirty-five maids done said no and I feel like I'm selling something nobody want to buy. Something big and stinky, like Kiki Brown and her lemon smell-good polish. But what really makes me and Kiki the same is, I'm proud a what I'm selling. I can't help it. We telling stories that need to be told”(Stockett 244). Thirty-five maids refused to participate in Skeeter’s book but Aibileen is the only one to realize the importance of it. She hopes to be the one to spark an interest in the importance of Skeeter’s project. This is the moment when we see that Aibileen truly believes in the importance of writing a book about the maids and her wanting to get the issue out to the public. To add to this Kathryn Stockett has Skeeter say “Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought”(Stockett 492). This quote really seems to emphasize the whole central message of The Help. Skeeter thinks this after her meeting with Lou Anne in the drugstore. Lou Anne is deeply touched by what Louvenia has said about her. Despite pressure from Hilly, Lou Anne swears that she will never fire Louvenia because she has supported her through her depression and suicide attempts. Skeeter is surprised to hear these words from Lou Anne, whom she has always considered a not outgoing kind of person. This prompts Skeeter to consider how much she had underestimated not only Lou Anne, especially as a white woman, but also the many women she spoke to while writing the book. The very close relationship between Lou Anne and Louvenia shows that there is not much that separates white from black. Finally, another good quote that Stockett includes is

I used to be a good fighter.' She looks out along the boxwoods, wipes off her sweat with her palm. 'If you'd known me ten years ago....' She's got no goo on her face, her hair's not sprayed, her nightgown's like an old prairie dress. She takes a deep breath through her nose and I see it. I see the white-trash girl she was ten years ago. She was strong. She didn't take no shit from nobody(Stockett 365).

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Minny makes this observation this remark after Celia drives away the deranged naked man who tried to attack them both. It offers us a view of Celia quite different than the passive and uninvolved person we've known throughout the story, demonstrating her strength and her difficult past. It imprints the moment when Minny truly comes to respect and like Celia and she notes that Celia has the same personality characteristics that she prides in herself, such as strength and a refusal to have people tell her what to do. Again this shows another tight bond between white and black in the making. They are starting to realize that they are no different from each other. 

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The Help’s Reflection of Racial Prejudice and Social Commentary in 1960s Mississippi. (2024, February 13). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 18, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-helps-reflection-of-racial-prejudice-and-social-commentary-in-1960s-mississippi/
“The Help’s Reflection of Racial Prejudice and Social Commentary in 1960s Mississippi.” GradesFixer, 13 Feb. 2024, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-helps-reflection-of-racial-prejudice-and-social-commentary-in-1960s-mississippi/
The Help’s Reflection of Racial Prejudice and Social Commentary in 1960s Mississippi. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-helps-reflection-of-racial-prejudice-and-social-commentary-in-1960s-mississippi/> [Accessed 18 Jul. 2024].
The Help’s Reflection of Racial Prejudice and Social Commentary in 1960s Mississippi [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Feb 13 [cited 2024 Jul 18]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-helps-reflection-of-racial-prejudice-and-social-commentary-in-1960s-mississippi/
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