Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Help: Part Four, Chps 29-End

So. How's 'bout that ending?

Skeeter gets a job in New York, Minny runs away from her abusive husband, Aibileen gets fired, but they're all free. I suppose the unfairness of that corresponds to the unfairness of racism but hot damn.

Poor Skeeter, if she stayed in Jackson unlikable people would dislike her and she'd never get married. If she hadn't been brave enough to write a book she would have had a piddly little job and been mildly uncomfortable in social settings and ended up as a empty headed housewife. That's no picnic but it's not quite on the same level as getting beat up by your husband or raising other people's children to grow up and hate you or being threatened with lynching.

Oh Skeeter, Skeeter. She's young enough that her stupidity and self-centeredness are in character, I guess, but the book only wants to see her as brave and transgressive.

I know you guys will rant about this much more effectively, and I'll come back to the novel, but I wanted to note a couple of things from the end of the book.

The acknowledgements contains one of the best lines of the book:
Thank you to Amy Einhorn, my editor, without whom the sticky-note business would not be the success it is today.

Stockett notes that she "took liberties with time," talking about songs and products in years before they were popular; also "the Jim Crow laws ... [were] taken from actual legislation that existed at various times across the South." Look, I know I'm Janey Stick-in-the-Mud when it comes to historical things but this kind of thing drives me nuts. IT MATTERS. It matters when things happened, but it also matters what laws were in place where and at what time. If you are going to write about Jackson, Mississippi in a specific year and you fudge the laws or whatever, then you are no longer writing about Jackson, Mississippi in that year. Which isn't necessarily a big deal unless your book purports to convey some sort of historical truth. I think, in this case, Stockett's fudging is pretty minor, but in general, if you have to fabricate or transfer historical details in order to tell a historical story, then your story maaaaaay not actually be good history. If Skeeter, in Jackson in 1962, couldn't have heard "The Times They Are A-Changin", but could have had the sense that things were a-changin, then what would have given her that feeling? It's a weak author, in my humble and snobby opinion, who has to make something up.

The autobiographical note, "Too Little, Too Late" makes me wish Stockett would have just written her own memoirs or something, but it also goes a long way toward explaining some of what's wrong with Skeeter. Skeeter is obviously channeling a lot of Stockett's experience, so I guess you could interpret some of her failings as Stockett's own critique of her younger complacency. But the book sets Skeeter up as heroine: she's the one who has the book idea, she's the one who pursues it, she's the one at the center of the project (and the one the maids think of when they worry about it). I get that Stockett wants to show both ends of the story, but Skeeter never gets any blow-back from her obnoxiousness and it makes for a really annoying read.

(Also: Stockett never reveals how old she is, which, again, IT MATTERS, and also, Southern Lady stereotype much?)

So, final thoughts. In the end analysis I thought the book took the easy path in two crucial ways. First of all, the utter evilness of Hilly and the lovelessness of the white Southern mothers. And secondly, Skeeter's lack of religiosity. It didn't quite sit right with me when Skeeter just sort of declares that she never really cared much about religion. (Wouldn't she, in that environment, consider herself at least something of a nominal Christian? Or have a stronger relationship to religion than just "meh"?) In both cases, it would have more difficult to go into detail but it would have enriched the book by miles. Also, relatedly, the sort-of absence of the civil rights movement bothered me. Skeeter (someone who orders banned books from California, remember) has access to a car, easily lies to cover up where she's going, and has been totally alienated from her former friends: how does she have so very little interest in or contact with the civil rights movement? Even if, as I've said before, she only has a strong aversion to it.

The relationship between Aibileen and poor hapless Mae Mobley was probably the best, most interesting part of the book for me. Forget Skeeter and her meal-ticket book; Aibileen's starting to tell Mae Mobley little civil rights stories (Martian Luther King!!! OMG!) was really touching. And I thought it was a sign of how things were changing and might change, in that Aibileen wouldn't have dared, perhaps, to do that before.

Thank you, Alice, for being our brave leader on this read-along journey! Well done with those section breaks, well done.


  1. This is what I get for THE ONLY TIME I didn't read the acknowledgements for a book. I missed her little autobiographical section.

    Due to some internet digging, I'd say she's 40 or 45. Which makes sense, because I also kind of saw her putting herself in Mae Mobley's shoes. Like "this last generation is kind of faily, but MAE MOBLEY WILL GROW UP AND FIX THINGS."

    Good call on your criticisms, madam. I think we can all agree that Skeeter just kind of sucks as a character. But I demand more demands for Celia/Minny! More! We shall be heard!

    Look at us, being more in touch with popular culture now.

  2. Just yes. You are so right. Poor poor little Skeeter, she might have ended up like a bored Southern housewife instead of becoming a hippy and listening to Bob Dylan before it was possible to, (and yet not even mentioning civil rights in any way) but phew! Thank God she escaped the worst life known to man...

    Sorry. I just really hate Skeeter! But yes. And yay, we finished The Help and all survived and we didn't even make death threats to Stockett or anything!