Monday, July 4, 2011

On The Help

I enjoyed reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It was quick and easy and entertaining. I was rooting for the team all the way throughout. I didn't like Hilly and couldn't understand how an entire group of women could blindly follow her. This was a tad unbelievable and contrived for me. I felt really crushed that Skeeter was able to escape the madness of her home and Aibileen and Minny (and the other black women) did not have that same luxury. I did not like that Skeeter's involvement in the text thrust her into the career of her choosing, whereas Aibileen and Minny suffered after the text's publication.

I became more critical of the text when I really thought about the blurb on the cover by NPR and then sought out the article (this could be one of the most important pieces of fiction since To Kill a Mockingbird...If you read only one book this summer, let this be it.)

Why is all of NPR appearing to applaud this book? What about Toni Morrison's Beloved or Octavia Butler's Kindred, James Baldwin and all the texts by Black writers that deal with civil rights and/or slavery? How do we leave out a whole history of black authors writing about race to only focus on two white women as writers of the most important literature. It's a good story by a white
author about black women, race issues and civil rights. However, I take issue with it being called great literature.

I disagree with the reviewer, Grigsby, who says that Stockett has put us in the shoes of three ordinary women (white liberal Skeeter and black maids: Aibileen and Minny)at an extraordinary point in American history. I don't believe that Stockett gave her reader as intimate a portrayal as she herself might have believed. I believe her position as woman who had a black nanny/maid causes her to be inept at putting on the shoes of a black maid, let alone help her audience walk around in those shoes. I think her position of power inhibits her from portraying an accurate voice of the oppressed. I also think Toni Morrison's Beloved does an amazing job of illustrating that we can not understand the complexities of being oppressed no matter how intensely and good intentionally we try.

Are these texts The Help and To Kill A Mockingbird so great because they are so accessible? Why is the bar so low in terms of classifying something as important? Why is the source attribution so vague? Why not attribute this phrase (Most important book) to a specific speaker (Karen Grigsby Bates)? Of course NPR is loaded with ethos and the vagueness of the quote attribution leaves room for interpretation that all of NPR supports this claim and thus helps sell books. I just wonder if white women writing about black women/people/Civil Rights is much easier on the mainstream American palate than black authors writing about these issues in more complex, nuanced and convincing ways.

1 comment:

  1. Hey girl, great post. I also really enjoyed reading The Help (loved Minnie) but I too think NPR is stretching a bit singling it out only against To Kill A Mockingbird. I think you're actually right on when you say that these two books are more popular because they're more accessible. While Beloved and Kindred are both phenomenal books, the one is way more intense (Beloved) and the other a little more sci-fi (Kindred) (so maybe less relatable?). That said, I think if you've read other literature that does a better job at illustrating these topics, they definitely stick out more than The Help does. As much as I liked reading The Help, I couldn't help but feel like it was just a little too cliched. But it is fun and adventurous, which I think mainstream America does enjoy more than a tougher read like Beloved. You'd think NPR would be able to sink in a little more than mainstream America though :)