By Chet Yarbrough
Ms. Stockett does not engage readers or listeners immediately. However, after three chapters, it seems impossible to stop reading or listening to the help.
One surmises that a white person raised in Mississippi in the sixties is offended by Kathryn Stockett’s recollection of her southern upbringing. A northern white person that lived through the sixties, particularly in small town (mostly white) USA, feels like a voyeur in the kitchens and living rooms of a closely knit southern community.
The binding of Ms. Stockett’s southern community unravels with interviews of black neighbors that reveal their roles and experiences as “The Help” for white Mississippi families. Anyone that lived through the sixties or read about the Black Panthers, Medgar Evers, or Martin Luther King knows this is a difficult and tumultuous time in American history. Stockett reflects on changes that were occurring on a smaller scale in the homes of black and white Mississippian’s.
Big and small influences on southern race relations are concretely revealed in Stockett’s book. She shows the influence that black nanny’s had with children of white families by telling the story of A-B’s (Abileen, a black nanny) relationship with Mae Mobley (a pre-school child of a middle class white family). A-B makes up stories to tell Mae Mobley, like the story of “Martian Luther King” to explain there is no difference between white and black people, except for the color of their skin.
Stockett may dwell on the inequity of white and black existence in the south of the 1960s but her book is not a vilification of Mississippi but a reflection of how trapped human beings become by the influence of their neighbors and by the economic condition of their lives.
This is a wonderful book to listen to with narrators that bring its characters to life. Stockett helps listeners understand how ambivalent, sometimes intransigent, human beings become when equality of opportunity is denied based on differences of color, economic circumstance, educational accomplishment, or place of birth.
This is a story about the disease of poverty and slavery; how freedom and equal opportunity are antidotes for the ill; i.e. a story that resonates with truth in the American north as well as the south.