The Help is a novel by Kathryn Stockett that was published in 2009 and later turned into a film in 2011. Set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early stages of the Civil Rights Movement (1962-1964), The Help follows the story of three women (two black women, and one white woman) who come together to anonymously publish a book called The Help. The book that they write is comprised of stories about experiences of black women working as maids for white families in Jackson.
Due to the nature of the story and the time period that it is set in, it is easy to find examples of injustices, power struggles and questions of identity throughout the novel. Because it is set at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movements, race is a large theme throughout the novel. The author explores many false stereotypes about black people, including that they are dirty, lazy, unintelligent, and carry diseases. The depiction of race in the novel can be directly related to the concept of othering. The white people in Jackson are the “self” whereas the black people are the “other”. White people are contributing to the otherness of black people by believing stereotypes and treating black people as if they are worthless. For example, Minny, who is a black maid for a white woman, was unable to find a job because her former boss, Hilly, was telling everyone in town that she was a thief. In reality, Minny had not stolen anything, and Hilly was just mad at Minny for something else. Hilly completely ruined Minny’s chances of getting a job over a lie, and she did it just because Minny was black.
The Help also tackles the idea of identity in a couple of ways. The first way is through the story of Mae Belle. Mae Belle is white, and she is physically and verbally abused by her mother. Aibileen (who is black) is Mae Belle’s caretaker, and she makes sure to care for Mae Belle in a loving way and tells her often that she is loved and important. There was an incident at school in which Mae Belle drew a picture of herself and made her skin color dark like Aibileen’s. The book also follows the story of Lulabelle who looks white but comes from a black family. Both of these instances involve some sort of identity crisis. Mae Belle has only been shown love by a black person, so that seems to be how she identifies herself. She doesn’t understand why the white people around her have a problem about it. Lulabelle is stuck between two worlds. She isn’t “black enough” to be black, but she also isn’t “white enough” to be white. These situations have caused an identity crisis for both of these characters, which could negatively affect the way that they view themselves (and how others view them) for the rest of their lives.