The Help - Kathryn Stockett (2009)
Multiple times, while reading the first few pages of this book, I found myself flicking to the back cover to re-affirm the somewhat ‘hard to believe’ fact, that this author was white. The voice leaping off the page was most definitely not white, and what should have jarred in my ears, through lack of exposure to the sound, made itself at home there by the end of the first page.
As a writer myself, I appreciate the skill of allowing the characters in your head to take over your voice, but Kathryn Stockett did this so beautifully, I was in disbelief it was actually her crafting this story. I truly felt as though I had travelled back in time and was a fly on the wall, listening in on private thoughts and conversations I should not have been privy to. Then feeling an incredible gratitude to the author for gaining me access.
As Kathryn wove her magic around me, Aibeleen, Minnie and Skeeter’s lives wrote themselves on my heart, because while I was not born until 1982, I want to remember. I want to remember what happens when we take our eyes off the ball, when we focus on our differences, instead of the fact that we are all one race, that we are all one people.
There was a line on page two that jumped out at me. “That was the day my whole world went black. Air look black, sun look black. I laid up in bed and stared at the black walls a my house. I didn’t feel so accepting anymore!” When I read these words, not only did I connect with them, as I am familiar with grief, but something even greater stirred in me. My sense of justice, and what is right. I felt myself saying ‘Alright…let’s get this party started.’
I find it incredible that within a couple of pages, I felt an emotional connection to these women, and a desire to know more, to read, watch and learn more. I wanted to be more educated about our history, about the civil rights movement. For me this was a call to action.
Then there were those quiet family moments, observed by the ‘help’ who were expected not to notice. Their thoughts about the way their ‘white families’ behaved toward each other, the way they spoke, the way they loved, or didn’t, what they said to their children. As a mother my attention was peaked. How would they look upon me? What would they say about me? What words am I writing onto my own children’s memory bank? And who would I have been, had I lived then?
There were parts of this book that angered me so much, I would scream out loud at the characters. Then, I would hold my hand up to my heart and keep reading, disheartened by the depravity of our history, wishing that I could have been there, hoping I would have behaved differently to the ‘white women in the book,’ and then staring out the window, comparing modern day scenario’s with how ‘white bosses’ behaved.
How many times throughout my life, have I ignored an injustice because I was too afraid to step out of line, or what others would think of me? How many times have I allowed another to be mis-treated for something that makes them different? How different are we really? This fact burned inside me. It is so easy to look back and think, I wish we/I could have done better. But to be standing in the moment, hand in hand with those who are being oppressed, while sacrificing your own comfort or position. That is when it really counts. Skeeter’s courage to do exactly that was a powerful representation of the kind of woman I would hope to be, in that same circumstance.
This book walked with me, it’s pages open, to make a cup of tea, or dinner for my family, it walked to the bathroom, and rested on the windowsill while I washed the dishes at night. It walked down to school with me to pick up my children, weighing down my handbag. It sat open on my knee as I watched my children play at the park. ‘What’s wrong Mum?’ My 8-year-old daughter would ask when my eyes filled with tears, or I put the book down in anger. So, I watched the movie with her, so she could understand why I was so moved, so affected by this truth wrapped up in fiction. But while she bawled her eyes out with me at the injustice, she couldn’t wrap her head around it, because it goes against everything she believes in. Because one of her little besties is black. And the fact that I am even using the words ‘black and white’ is an affront because those beautiful little minds don’t even see it – it makes no difference here, and I am proud.
Maybe this generation, in this nation will be different. And then I turn on the news, and another nation is riled up again, barricading the streets with signs saying ‘black lives matter,’ and people are getting shot or stabbed because of the colour of their skin, or their sexual affiliation, or beliefs. And I sigh disheartened. How are we still here? I understand now why it does matter, why they are protesting, why it is all over the news. I have seen but a little through their eyes thanks to this wonderful book, and I don’t want to go back there either.
In this beautifully crafted novel, Kathryn Stockett, through Aibeleen’s eyes says it so perfectly. “I wanna stop that moment from coming, and it come in ever white child’s life – when they start to think that colored folks ain’t as good as whites.” It is all up to us, like most things – this starts at home, and I want to make sure I get it right. I want my children to love people. All people, not despite our differences, but because of them.