Monday, November 1, 2010

The Help

The HelpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I first heard about this book, I felt some apprehension about reading it as I often do with books about black people, written by a white person. I tried to avoid it, but then the nice (white) ladies in my exercise class started buzzing about it, so I knew I had to read it. Then my book club made it our selection for November.

I will say that I enjoyed the book, loved the characters, especially Minny and Celia. I laughed and cried and got anxious along with Skeeter and Aibilene when their book came out. It's a story of bravery of a group of women in Mississippi in the 60's, from different backgrounds coming together to bring about a change.

BUT...and this is where my apprehension comes in as with many books about black people written by white people...sometimes the heroine is too wise, too perfect, and the white people in the story are one extreme or the other, either too patronizing or too evil. The black person's whole purpose in the story becomes solving the life issues of the white heroine.

The black hero/heroine starts to fit the stereotype of the "Mystical Magical Negro" that Spike Lee talked about in his lectures on film. Aibilene becomes another Boatwright sister from the Secret Life of Bees. You have to also consider Sydney Poitier's character in the Defiant Ones, Michael Clarke Duncan's character in the Green Mile, Whoopi Goldberg's character in Ghost. There are many others.

OK, it makes a good story, enjoyable cinema. When they make The Help into a movie, it will provide work for a lot of black actors. And I'll be there in the theater opening week, booing and hissing Hilly Holbrook.

I was going to excuse Kathryn Stockett's patronizing until I read her Postscript. She said she wished she had asked her family's maid before she died what it was like to be black in Mississippi. I remember the 60's when I attended a mostly white college in New Jersey after growing up in the Jim Crow South. One of my classmates asked me what it was like to be black. My response was, "Compared to what?"

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