Although The Help was published in 2009 I did not know about it until it was listed in New York Times Bestseller List for the month of June 2012. I love to check out the synopsis of each book that made it to the list and if the plot or contents look interesting, I'd download the ebook. (Obtaining books used to be slightly more irksome as it requires a trip to the local bookstores and sometimes you go away disappointed as they don't have the title you want.) The Help looked promising.
Set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s, The Help is about African-American maids working in middle-class white households. The story is narrated by three strong and courageous ladies:
a) Aibileen, who takes care of Mae Mobley, a two-year-old daughter of Elizabeth Leefolt;
b) Minny, who is always loosing her job due to her sassy mouth and who now works for Celia Foote, whom the society ladies referred to as 'white trash';
c) Eugenia 'Skeeter', daughter of a cotton plantation owner and journalist wannabe.
Skeeter had graduated and returned home to find that Constantine, the black maid who raised her, had disappeared. No one would tell her what had happened.
Meanwhile, she applied for an editor's job with publishers Harper and Roe. The senior editor, Elaine Stein, called her personally to tell her that her application is rejected, but she is encouraged to write a book on a subject that is interesting and matters to her.
Rallying the help of Aibileen and Minny, Skeeter started on her book about what it is like for black maids to work in white households. Secret trips were made to Aibileen's home where interviews with the maids are held.
As the story unfold, I was hooked and reeled in like a fish. The 'voices' of Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter are distinct from each other and believable. But most of all, it was the inhumane and racist treatment of the African American maids that got to me. I had never imagined that the whites in America was so racist in the early 1960s. I knew they were racist but to that extent?? (I had to google to verify the facts.)
'Blacks are dirty and have disease' is the constant thing you hear. They do not allow a black maid to use the toilets in the house, nor to use the same cutlery or plate as them. Everything is segregated. You have shops for the blacks and shops for the whites. As long as a black woman is not wearing a white uniform signifying that she's shopping for her white mistress, she is not allowed to enter the stores for the whites. In the story, when a black guy was caught buying petrol from a white petrol kiosk, he was beaten almost to death, never mind that he didn't know it was a white petrol kiosk.
It really makes me wonder, why are people so uncomfortable with the colour black? And I don't mean only the Africans. Black cats are shunned, too. They are the least adopted, and the myth of their bringing bad luck to a household is propagated throughout the centuries.