The help uses many rhetorical devices, but known more than colloquial language. Kathryn Stockett makes sure that each one of her characters sounds real. She doesn't just say, “she said it in a southern accent”, she writes it out so when you read it the words become a southern accent. The reader doesn't have to infer what it sounds like because it is written that way. Stockett’s use of colloquial language is continuous throughout the novel and varies as the characters change, for every few characters have distinct dialects or accents.
A few examples of Stockett’s use of colloquial language occur on page 520 of the Help:
“‘I look deep into her rich brown eyes and she look into mine. Law, she got old-soul eyes, like she done lived a thousand years. And I swear I see, down inside, the woman she gone grow up to be..and then she say it, just like I need her to. ‘You is kind,’ she say, “you is smart. You is important.’
‘Oh Law.’ I hug her hot little body to me. I fell like she done just given me a gift. ‘Thank you, Baby Girl.’” (Stockett 520 -521)
In this excerpt we see that when Aibileen is thinking, and even taking, she is not speaking English properly, but rather informally. It adds character to her, because in real life people who speak their language do not always speak it formally. We see in this excerpt that “you is kind” should actually be “you are kind”, but that is not the way Stockett wanted her character to speak.
Another aspect of rhetoric used in this excerpt is repetition. In this passage, Mae Mobley repeats the words “you is”, and the multiple use of the words adds emphasis. It shows the reader that this is something to be remembered, that it is something significant because has occurred more than once.
“ I head down the hot sidewalk at eight thirty in the morning wondering what I’m on do with the rest a my day. The rest of my life. I am shaking and crying and a white lady walk by frowning at me…the sun is bright but my eyes is wide open…” (Stockett 522)
I find this to be one of the most important images in the book; when Aibileen walks away from the Leefolt house. She’s lost so much at this point, and her conundrum about life hits her in this exact moment. She’s lost her job as a maid and knows she cannot get another, and the one Miss Skeeter prescribed won’t be enough money for her to live off of that long. Throughout her years she had always believed that she was too old to start over; that her life was done. But it is in this moment that Aibileen realizes that this is only the beginning. She thinks to herself, “Maybe I ain’t too old to start over… and I laugh and cry at the same time at this. Cause just last night I thought I was finished with everything new…”(Stockett 522) and this is so important to me, because there is nothing like realizing that you can always have a new beginning.
“I stop where I am and look at Miss Leefolt, but she staring at the funny L-shaped crack in her dining room.” (Stockett 516)
The L shaped crack in Miss Leefolt’s table is how Miss Hilly discovers that Aibileen was involved in the making of the Help book, and results in Aibileen losing her job. In my mind, the image of the crack is significant because it confirms to Hilly that the book takes place in Jackson, and changes Aibileen’s life by getting her fired. But had the L- shaped crack not been there, Aibileen would never have gotten the courage to stand up to Miss Hilly, and I think this is more important than her old job at Miss Leefolt’s. Not only that, but it helps Aibileen decide to take up Miss Skeeter’s offer to be Miss Myrna for the Jackson Journal. Using the L-shaped crack in the novel ultimately frees Aibileen to pursue more in her life than she thought she ever could.
“The man’s jaw goes sideways and blood bursts out of his mouth. He wobbles around, turns, and Miss Celia whacks the other side of his face too…is this really happening? Is a white woman really beating up a white man to save me?” (Stockett 363)
I find this imagery to be significant to the novel because it is when Minny realizes that you cannot simply judge all white people together because not everyone is the same. Minny never really took well to whites, but she gradually came to accept them as the book progressed, and in this moment specifically. When Miss Celia saves Minny from the white man who was about to hurt her, she was shocked. It is in this moment when Minny comes to respect Miss Celia because she didn’t care that Minny was black, she saved her because she knew she was a person; and in the end that’s all that truly matters.
I swallow back a mouthful a spit and stare at Minny’s wall paint that’s gone yellow with bacon grease, baby hands, Leroy’s Pall Malls. No pictures or calendars on Minny’s walls. I’m trying not to think. I don’t want a think about a colored man dying. It’ll make me remember Treelore.
Minny’s hands is in fists. She gritting her teeth. ‘Shot him in front a his children, Aibileen…Radio say his family run out the house when they heard the shots. Say he bloody, stumbling round, all the kids with blood all over em…’” (Stockett 229-230)
This imagery of Medgar Evers death is very significant to the novel because it represents how dangerous it was to be African- American during the 1960s. Medgar Evers was looked up to in Jackson, Mississippi, especially since he was highly regarded in the NAACP. He was a colored man fighting for change, fighting to be equal, but his brutal death terrified many people at that time. It made people believe that fighting for rights, or changing the norm, would ultimately put your life at an extreme risk. Evers death showed Aibileen and Minny how risky writing a book about working for white families actually was, and showed the readers how dangerous the situation could be. Even though the Help had previously discussed the danger of writing a book, it was brought to the surface with the death of Medgar Evers.
Miss Hilly: friend of Miss Skeeter and Miss Leefolt who attended Ole Miss but left to get married. She was in a long term relationship with a man named Mr Johnny but he left her for a woman named Miss Celia from a country town called Sugar Ditch. Miss Hilly is the main antagonist of the novel, being that she is extremely racist against blacks and is willing to lie and play dirty in order to get what she wants.
Miss Leefolt: friend of Miss Skeeter and Miss Hilly. She too attended Ole Miss but left in order to marry and have children. She constantly wants to impress people around her and is always trying to be regarded highly in other peoples eyes. She has a daughter named Mae Mobley, but Miss Leefolt does not give her the right motherly affection her child needs, especially since Mae is chubby and not cute. Later in the novel she will have a son, whom she treats better than her daughter. Aibileen, her maid, takes care of her children.
Constantine: Miss Skeeter's maid who took care of her and her brother when they were children. Constantine helps Eugenia deal with her differences because she too is a tall woman and makes sure Skeeter feels like she is important too. Constantine is mixed and has light brown eyes and dark skin. She has a daughter that comes out very pale, and Constantine ultimately gives her up to be adopted in the north.
Mrs. Phelan: Miss Skeeter's mother who struggles with the beginning stages of cancer. She wants nothing more than for her daughter to dress nicely and find a husband to marry and take care of her. She often argues with her daughter Skeeter, but the two love each other nevertheless.
Stuart Whitworth: Miss Skeeter's love interest and the son of the senator of Mississippi. The two's relationship becomes very complicated because he still has feelings for his old girlfriend who cheated on him, and he ultimately leaves Skeeter for it. He later comes back to be with her again, but Skeeter isn't so willing to rekindle the old flame. They later get back together and he helps her deal with her mother dying of cancer, and eventually proposes. But when he realizes that he doesn't know Eugenia as well as he thought, he calls off the engagement.
Miss Celia: a ditzy blonde woman who is married to Mr. Johnny. She wants nothing more but to be able to provide for Johnny and get pregnant, but she has many complications. She asks for help from Minny and hires her as a maid while she is pregnant. After having her fourth miscarriage, Miss Celia becomes extremely depressed and is only able to get better with the help of Minny. Miss Hilly and all of her friends are mean to Miss Celia because she married Mr. Johnny, and it makes it very hard for Celia to make friends. By the end of the novel Miss Celia accepts that Miss Hilly is a terrible person and goes on living her life happily with Mr. Johnny.
Miss Skeeter, actually named Eugenia Phelan, is young woman and main character in the novel. Instead of getting married like her friends, she decides to finish her studies at Ole Miss and obtains her degree. After finishing college, she comes back to live with her mother and father on their cotton plantation. Miss Skeeter is eager to become a writer and sends in her résumé to Elaine Stein, a female editor at Harper & Row, Publishers. But since Eugenia lacked work experience, she had to get a job as Miss Myrna for the Jackson Journal first. By taking the job as Miss Myrna, Miss Skeeter is able to meet and get closer to Miss Leefolt’s maid Aibileen, and after talking for some time she gets the idea to write a book about what it is like for black maids to work for white families. This is how the development of her book Help begins.
Miss Skeeter hair “is kinky, more public than cranial, and whitish blond, breaking off easily, like hay. My skin is fair and while some call this creamy, it can look downright deathly when [she’s] serious, which is all the time. Also, there’s a slight bump of cartilage along the top of [her] nose. But [her] eyes are cornflower blue…” (Stockett 66). She is also extremely tall for a woman at that time.
Miss Skeeter is an persistence young woman who wants to do more with her life than just get married and have children, and much of her personality was influenced my her maid Constantine, whom she especially bonded. Whenever she felt down, Constantine was always there to make her feel at home. But when Constantine seems to have disappeared out of her life one day, Miss Skeeter can’t help but wonder why.
Minny is a hot headed maid and one of who lives in Jackson, Mississippi. She almost always states her mind and isn’t hesitant to sass-mouth anyone that crosses her. She has five children, “Leroy Junior, Sugar, Felicia, Kindra, and Benny”(Stockett 228), and is married to a man named Leroy. Her marriage with Leroy is complicated since he often gets drunk and beats on Minny, and it is hard for Minny to look past this awful characteristic of Leroy because she loves him so much.
In the beginning of the novel Minny worked for Miss Hilly’s mother, Miss Walter. They wanted Minny for a maid because she is “bout the best cook in Hinds County, maybe even all a Mississippi” (Stockett 8). But when Miss Hilly sends her mother off to the old folks home and tells Minny that she needs to work for her, Minny refuses. Miss Hilly then tells all her friends how Minny is a thief so she’ll have no choice but to work for her. But Minny doesn’t take to it, instead Minny gives Miss Hilly the Terrible Awful pie.
Minny is a significant character to the book because she is the best friend of Aibileen and later helps Miss Skeeter with her stories in order to write the Help.
Aibileen Clark is an African American maid living in the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi. After helping raise seventeen children in her lifetime, Aibileen knows almost everything it takes in order to care for white babies. She knows "how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go in the toilet bowl before [their] mamas even get out [of] bed in the morning"(Stockett 1).
She is a kind woman and very faithful to God, yet can be very shy when taken out of her comfort zone. Her timidity is shown when she first meets Miss Skeeter, and is an afraid to be too open with her. “Aibileen is no more than cordial with me, nervous, stands at the kitchen sink and never stops working” (Stockett 96).
After losing her son Treelore in an accident, a “bitter seed” (Stockett 3) was plated inside of Aibileen. Her whole world went black that day, and after her son’s death she just didn’t feel as accepting anymore. This seed in her comes from her occasional distaste for whites, mostly because when her son was severely injured at work, his fellow white coworkers did very little to help him; resulting in his death. Her bitterness reappears throughout the book, specifically when Mrs. Leefolt calms that blacks were dirty. “I feel that bitter seed growing inside a me, the one planted after Treelore died. I want to yell so loud that Baby Girl can hear me that dirty isn’t a color, disease ain’t the Negro side a town”(Stockett 112).
But despite that seed, Aibileen manages to be sweet to little Mae Mobley. She gives Baby Girl the love and affection that her mother won’t give her because she isn’t pretty enough. Aibileen makes sure to tell Mae Mobley that she is special in her own way. She constantly tells Baby Girl to remember “you is kind, you is smart, you is important” (Stockett 521)
Yet that bitter seed gradually disappears as Aibileen grows as a character. She learns to see things past the negative and open her eyes to the hopeful side of things, and by the end of the novel Aibileen realizes that “maybe [she] ain’t too old to start over…” (Stockett 522)
While the Help contains many themes amongst its pages, nothing sticks out to me more than the theme of racial intolerance. Throughout the book we as readers comprehend the struggle between blacks and whites by reading the struggles that the characters go through; seeing the hardships they must endure being born in a racism society; understanding the sacrifices that must be made in order to obtain the sweetness that equality might hold.
The Help takes place in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s during the civil rights era. Being a state conquered with racism and segregationist thoughts, it was no better setting to explore the book's theme. Aibileen, Minny, and all the other African-American maids at that time took a grave risk in their fight against racial intolerance. By helping Ms. Skeeter write her book about black maids working for white families, all the maids took a chance of losing their job, their house, their families, even their very own lives. Yet they were all willing to partake in the novel because they knew it was the right thing to do, and they knew that they could not let racial intolerance hold them down. The maids knew that not being able to share the same bathroom because you were a different skin color was wrong. They knew that being thrown in jail for a crime you didn't commit was unjust. And this is how they fought against it.
The book demonstrates its theme of racial intolerance by using Hilly Holbrook as the antagonist, a racist young white woman who is quick to display her distaste in blacks. The continuous struggle between Ms. Hilly and the maids shows that racial intolerance is significant aspect of the book.
This book connects to the cultural identity of America by displaying a fight against racism just like how civil rights activists fought for equality during the 1960s. If the majority of people did not gain the courage to fight against discrimination like the characters in the book were willing to, our society today would still be segregated.
Miss Skeeter retaliates against Miss Hilly's racism by changing a word in her initiative against blacks sharing toilets with whites to "commode". This results in a number of toilets being placed on Miss Hilly's yard and embarrasses her extremely. This incident will ultimately ruin Miss Skeeter and Miss Hilly's relationship for the entirety of the novel. Miss Hilly's influence will make Skeeter loss her place in Bridge Club and loss a majority of her other friends. Not only that, but Elaine Stein, the editor of the paper, moved Skeeter's date up!
Minny is coming to accept Miss Celia and is especially shocked when Celia willingly beats up a white man in order to save her. Miss Celia at this time tries to re-friend Miss Hilly and her gang at goes to the League Benefit with Mr. Johnny(wearing a very revealing and flashy dress, I might add). During the Benefit, Celia gets dead drunk and tries to talk to Hilly, but ends up tearing Hilly's dress. This infuriates Hilly and she goes on ignore Celia's existence. When Miss Hilly wins one of Minny's chocolate pies and Celia goes to congratulate her, Hilly gets very angry and accuses Celia of giving her that pie on purpose in order to sabotage her(Minny gave Miss Hilly a chocolate pie in the beginning of the book and did something awful with it. And it was also Miss Hilly's mother who actually won her the pie). Hilly's accusation upsets Miss Celia to the point that she vomits all over the floor. Many days later, while Celia lays in the bed upset from the benefit, Minny explains that she gave Miss Hilly a chocolate pie with shit in it and that Miss Hilly thought that Celia must of known. Celia is shocked, and states, "'Thank you. For...telling me that.'" (Stockett 400) After that, Celia no longer tries to impress Hilly and goes on living happy with Johnny.
It is actually the fact that Hilly ate Minny's Terrible Awful pie that serves as protection for the maids from the wrath of their white employers, if they were find out that the book is about Jackson, Mississippi. They knew if Hilly read the book and found out that they put that bit of information in there she would make sure people thought that it wasn't about Jackson.
By the time the novel is finished and all the maid stories have been finished, Skeeter sends in her book to Elaine Stein to see if it will get published. Lucky for them it does, and it is sent out to many libraries in the states. At first the book does not sell well, but after being discussed on a TV show and the host states that the novel might actually take place in Jackson, the novel becomes extremely popular. This scares the maids because it has only been a short amount of time and everyone has already figured out it is about Jackson, and they will eventually figure out which maids are involved.
Hilly goes off swearing that the book is about Jackson until she reads the finally pages of the book and realizes what they put in about her. From this point on she starts telling people that it isn't about Jackson, but this doesn't end her want of revenge. Some maids suffer the consequences of helping with Miss Skeeters book, but a majority of the maids are not harmed. Hilly goes up to Skeeter's house and accuses her of writing the book and states that she is going to tell Skeeter's mother. But since Mrs. Phelan had been struggling with cancer, she couldn't care less about what Hilly had to say. But even though Hilly didn't get the chance to complain to Skeeter's mother, she states that she not only knows that Minny was involved but also knows that Aibileen was involved in the book because she mistakenly included the L-shaped mark on Miss Leefolt's table in her stories.
Miss Skeeter is also offered work in New York to be an editor, but isn't sure if she should take the job because of how bad it has gotten in Jackson because of her book. But Minny and Aibileen insist that she take it, and she ends up heading to New York by the end of the book.
Hilly manages to get Minny's husband, Leroy, fired from his job and he comes home so angry that he gets her and the kids out of the house. Minny knows that he was mad enough to kill, so she takes her kids and calls Aibileen. She tells Aibileen what has happened, and Aibileen convinces her that she need to leave Leroy because he is no good and beats on her, and all the love in the world isn't worth that. Minny finally gets the courage to leave her husband and pursue a better life.
Aibileen goes to her job at Miss Leefolt's house only to see that Hilly is also there. Miss Hilly then accuses Aibileen of stealing her silverware and convinces Miss Leefolt to fire her. Aibileen then says her good bye to Baby Girl, and tells her to remember everything she taught her, "you is kind, you is smart, you is important" (Stockett 521) and hugs Mae. Aibileen then leaves the Leefolt house wondering what she is now going to do with her life since she is jobless, and the job as Miss Myrna that Skeeter got her isn't enough to live off of. And then she realizes that even though she is older, her life isn't close to over and that she is going to start anew, perhaps write a book about her life and the things she's gone through. The book ends with Aibileen realizing that she hasn't "finished everything new" (Stockett 522).
The middle of the novel intertwines many different aspects of life in its pages. It takes a while for Miss Skeeter to persuade other maids to partake in her novel because they all fear the risk they'd be taking if they were to help. But many maids gain the courage to join once Yule May, a maid working for Miss Hilly after Minny was fired, is thrown in jail for taking a ring from Miss Hilly worth almost nothing. With all the maids willing to share their stories, Miss Skeeter finally has enough to write her book.
There are many complications that take place in the middle, from Medgar Evers getting shot to the assassination of Kennedy. The Phelan family must deal with Mrs. Phelan suffering with cancer and on top of that stress Eugenia must also focus on writing the book and maintaining her relationship with Stuart Whitworth. It is a rocky relationship from beginning to end.
Minny has to deal with working for Miss Celia, who appears to be a very lazy and ditsy white woman who won't do anything around the house. It is later revealed that she is pregnant, and didn't want to do anything that would harm the baby, seeing as she had had three previous miscarriages. Unfortunately she loses the fourth baby, and Minny must help her cope.
Aibileen attempts to teach Mae Mobley, or Baby Girl, that being black isn't a bad thing. She is doing whatever she can to keep Mae from turning racist or judgmental like the rest the children she cared for.