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Monday, February 15, 2010

Help is on the Way!

Kathryn Stockett's The Help was a wonderful quick read about Mississippi life (and Southern life in general) in 1962.  At the crux of the story sit three women - two black, one white - who come together to blur the racial lines that defined their every action.  Aside from the fact that I was delighted and thankful to be transported through the pages of this novel back to my beloved South during this snowy New York winter, I was grateful that this book spurred the wheels in my head into motion.

Born in 1985, I (unlike my parents) experienced neither the 1960s nor the segregated South, but I can still admit many of the customs described in this book (yes, even some of the more reprehensible ones) persist today.  True, all my life there has been a woman who has cooked and cleaned for my family.  No, we never made her use a separate bathroom like in the book.  And while [also unlike the families in the book] my parents were very involved in my upbringing, this woman played plays an extremely large role in raising me.  There were so many times while reading this book I stopped mid-sentence thinking I recognized certain behaviors, both good and bad.  In many cases, while it is no justification, I can only say "that's just how it was."

The South is a complicated place and this novel points out many of the intricacies that make it so.  Stockett points out this difficult place caught between moving forward and staying with "how it is."  Even Skeeter, the heroine of the novel championing for civil rights, shudders at the thought of a black woman and a white man together.  Not all traditions are so simple to shake and even the most progressive can remain stuck in the past at times.  It is clear Stockett has experienced the life she writes for her characters, and I am grateful she has put this out there for all to read.  Hopefully other Southerners will pick it up and see themselves somewhere within the pages. 

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