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The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Historical Context Summer Reading Project

Erica Applebaum

on 13 September 2012

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Transcript of The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help Historical Analysis by Erica Applebaum Novel by Kathryn Stockett was published in 2009. The novel is set in Jackson, Mississippi from August 1962 to late 1964. The Help The novel is told from the point of view of three women:
Aibileen and Minny (two black women who work as maids)
Skeeter Phelan (a white aspiring writer who is an outcast among her racist friends) Origin of the term "The Help" During the early 1960s, the maids and caretakers of white families were referred to as "the help." In this novel, Aibileen, Minny, and their friends in the black community serve as the help for the wealthy white families in Jackson, Mississippi. Segregation and Intimidation Segregation during the 1960s was extremely prominent in the South. Not only did blacks and whites live on opposite sides of town, but they rarely interacted with each other besides black employees and their white employers. Most whites saw themselves as the superior race and were generally satisfied with the restrictions that existed for blacks. Whites used intimidation to keep blacks from fighting for their rights. Sometimes, blacks were killed by lynching or shooting when they protested segregation and inequality. For example, Medgar Evers (a character in "The Help" and a real life civil rights activist), was killed by a white man in 1963 because he was a leader of the NAACP and played an active role in the civil rights movement. The intimidation tactic was generally successful in controlling blacks in the South. They feared being fired from their jobs and ruining their reputation. Minny, a character from "The Help", exemplifies this fear when she is asked by Miss Skeeter to relay her stories of working in a white household. While she wants to share her experiences as a maid in Jackson, Mississippi, she fears losing her job and not being able to provide for her children. Due to segregation, blacks were not permitted to use the same facilities as white people. For example, bathrooms, churches, schools, and supermarkets were segregated. This theme is seen in many situations in "The Help." For example, Hilly convinces her friends to build separate bathrooms for their black maids because they carry "different kinds of diseases" (Stockett 10). Hilly attempts to further segregate the black women from the whites by forcing them to use a bathroom in the garage instead of a bathroom in the house. Segregation is also apparent at the Jackson Junior League Annual Ball and Benefit. While the white couples are enjoying themselves at their party, the black women are working hard serving the whites. There is irony in this because the purpose of the Benefit was to raise money for "the Poor Starving Children of Africa" (Stockett 377). Hilly and her followers are willing to support and help a foundation for children in Africa, yet they refuse to assist the African American women raising their children. Medgar Evers (center) protesting segregation in Jackson, Mississippi. Inspiration from the 1960s "The Help" was inspired by many major themes and events from the 1960s, including:
Segregation and Intimidation
Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement
Jim Crow Laws As seen in the image, black women often raised white children in the South. Black women had few options other than to work as domestics for white families. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement Martin Luther King, Jr. was a famous civil rights activist. Known for his "I Have a Dream" speech, he fought for the equality of African Americans. Martin Luther King, Jr. marching in a peaceful protest in Jackson, Mississippi. In "The Help," Aibileen uses Martin Luther King, Jr. as a character in a story that she tells Mae Mobley. She calls this tale a "secret story" because it promotes equality among blacks and whites, and she makes Mae promise to keep it a secret from her parents. Main Characters: Aibileen Clark: A black maid working for Elizabeth and Raleigh Leefolt and raising their child, Mae Mobley. Mae and Aibileen develop a strong relationship.
Minny Jackson: A black maid working for Celia and Johnny Foote. She is headstrong, bold, and courageous. Aibileen and Minny are best friends.
Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan: A young and intelligent white woman who aspires to be a writer. She develops an idea to write a novel exposing the ills of life as a black maid in a white home. Hilly Holbrook: The antagonist of the novel. Hilly is an extremely racist white woman who holds a great deal of power in Jackson, Mississippi.
Elizabeth Leefolt: A young white woman who is a loyal follower of Hilly. She is the mother of Mae Mobley, yet she provides her child with very little love.
Celia Foote: An outcast in Jackson Mississippi among Hilly's friends. Celia employs Minny as her maid and fails to see the lines that separate blacks and whites. " 'One day, a wise Martian come down to Earth to teach us people a thing or two,' I say.
" 'Martian? How big?'
" 'Oh, he about six-two.'
" 'What's his name?'
" 'Martian Luther King.'...
" 'He was a real nice Martian, Mister King. Looked just like us, nose, mouth, hair up on his head, but sometime people looked at him funny and sometime, well, I guess sometime people was just downright mean.'...
" 'Why Aibee? Why was they so mean to him?' she ask.
" 'Cause he was green' " (Stockett 349). Aibileen's Secret Story: In this anti-discrimination story, Aibileen attempts to help Mae understand that everyone deserves to be treated fairly and not judged by the color of their skin. This message was a major part of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s platform for racial equality. The civil rights movement was a major event of the 1960s. Many actual events from this movement are depicted in "The Help." The growing tensions of the civil rights movement are felt between the black and white families in the novel. Another example of this tension occurs when Yule May, a black maid, is sent to jail by Hilly, her employer. Yule May steals a ring of little value from Hilly in an attempt to cover the cost of sending her twin sons to college. Even though the ring is valueless, Hilly uses her power in Jackson to send Yule May to jail for four years. This event shows the influence held by whites in the south during the civil rights movement. During this time period, many whites felt that blacks were inferior. Southern states, including Mississippi, passed laws (ex: Jim Crow Laws) to maintain the separation of blacks and whites in society. The Jim Crow Laws played an important role of limiting the rights of blacks. They were a set of rules and regulations that prevented blacks from having the same freedoms as whites. Skeeter discovers a booklet of these laws while browsing for material on race relations in Mississippi. She is not surprised by the laws in the booklet and claims that they are "just citing the facts" (Stockett 202). It is the first time, however, she has seen these rules on paper and Skeeter is "mesmerized by how many laws exist to separate" (Stockett 203) the blacks and whites. This tension can be seen as Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny write their own civil rights novel entitled "Help." The novel is a series of accounts from black maids telling their experiences of working for white women. Throughout the writing process, the three women fear being caught because their project would be deemed socially unacceptable. They go to great measures to protect themselves until the book is published. Works Cited Brunner, Borgna, and Elissa Haney. "Civil Rights Timeline." Infoplease. Pearson
Education, 2007. Web. 8 Sept. 2012.

Carson, Clayborne. "Civil Rights Movement." History. A&E Television Network,
1991. Web. 8 Sept. 2012.

Cozzens, Lisa. "Mississippi & Freedom Summer." Watson. N.p., 1997. Web. 7 Sept.

"Domestic Worker in Atlanta, Georgia." African American Women on the Home Front. 9 Sept. 2012.

Dufresne, Marcel. "Exposing the Secrets of Mississippi Racism." American
Journalism Review. University of Maryland, Oct. 1991. Web. 7 Sept. 2012.

Goldfield, David. The American Journey: History of the United States. AP ed.
Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, 2008. Print.

"Martin Luther King, Jr. Protest." Flickr. 9 Sept. 2012.

"Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi." Journey to Justice. 8 Sept. 2012.

"Segregated Bathrooms." Martin Luther King Day. 9 Sept. 2012.

Stockett, Kathryn. The Help. New York: Berkley, 2009. Print. Erica Applebaum
Ms. Kiernan
English 11 Honors
14 September 2012 While is a novel about overcoming struggles and the strength of friendship, it also brings to light many actual events experienced by the black community in Mississippi during the civil rights movement. This challenge of overcoming struggles was described by Condoleezza Rice in her speech at the Republican National Convention: "A little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham...where her parents can’t take her to a movie theater or to a restaurant, but they have her absolutely convinced that even though she can’t have a hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, she can be President of the United States if she wanted to be and she becomes the Secretary of State." The Help "Domestic Worker in Atlanta, Georgia." African American Women on the Home Front. 9 Sept. 2012. "Segregated Bathrooms." Martin Luther King Day. 9 Sept. 2012. "Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi." Journey to Justice. 8 Sept. 2012. "Martin Luther King, Jr. Protest." Flickr. 9 Sept. 2012.
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