About “The Help”

Well, I read the book, “The Help” and I saw the movie. I liked them both.

But as I was talking about both the movie and book with friends, we came to a consensus: what was depicted could never have happened. We came to the conclusion that such a book would never have come to print, and that anyone who participated in a “hush and tell” project such as the brave maids did in this fictional adventure would have been destroyed. The violence perpetrated against black people seeking dignity and equal rights back then, and the white people who tried to help them, was vicious, relentless and largely permissible.

What, then, was or is the value of this story?

Perhaps it is that some people, white and black, were introduced to the “race problem” or America for the first time. In the theater where I saw the movie, there was a young African American male who wept openly. I asked him how old he was; he replied 30. Somehow, the story of “how we got over” was never told to him. He was surprised, shocked, and while he was glad the Negro maids were able to tell their story, he was angered by how they were treated.

He said he had a new respect for his grandparents. Call that progress.

I suspect that this sugar-coated version of life in the South for black people “back then” was about all many people would take. The horror of that time period, the domestic terrorism that was a trademark of American life, is hard to recall, hard to remember, and hard not to resent. America is still infected with racism, but nobody will admit to the disease if the presentation of the disease is too rancid. Hence, this “feel good” version of what “the help” went through was all that could have been withstood at this point.

But the tragedy of not being able to tell the real story is that much of the country and the world (the book has been published in 35 countries) is that those who really want to keep blinders on will walk away thinking and truly believing that American terrorism was not so bad, that all of the hee-hawing that is heard from black folks is a bit overdone. Heck, if a group of Negro maids could get together and just tell the truth, then what’s everyone always complaining about?

That attitude begs the real story to be told. After reading “The Help” and seeing the movie, I delved into Alice Childress’ book, Like One of the Family: Conversations from a Domestic’s Life. The difference between the two books is stark…but that is not surprising. Childress was the great-granddaughter of a slave who was born in South Carolina who also once worked briefly as a domestic. Her experiences were far different than those of Kathryn Stockett. There is an authenticity in Childress’ book that is absent from Stockett’s.

That is not to say, however, that there was and is no value in Stockett’s work. If just a few more people can become just a little more knowledgeable about these United States and how it treated its African immigrants, the quest for a post-racial world might be a little more realistic.


That is a candid observation.

12 thoughts on “About “The Help”

  1. I tried to read it, but couldn’t get past the first 50 pages. It isn’t right to me that the oppressor co-opts the voice of the oppressed.

  2. My 88 year old neighbor just finished reading The Help. She often shares with me stories of growing up Jewish in the ghettos of New York and serving in the army before during and after WWII. I have not read the book, but have already seen the movie. She asked me as an African American what I thought about the story and asked me how real was the experience of the Black maids. She pressed me about the cruel behavior of the white women in the book and I told her many if not most African Americans can share a family story of female elders and ancestors being mistreated as domestic help or even as slaves, and that my family was no exception. When she asked if the story was otherwise realistic, my comment was similar to yours. I told her, “In real life that could have never happened.” She asked why. I told her, “They would have all been killed for doing what they did and the book would have never been published. It was a good story, it was an entertaining movie, but like most movies one has to suspend disbelief.” I told her I did so and was entertained and enjoyed that.

    1. I finally came up with an adjective for the book and movie: “disinfected.” Stories about racism have to be disinfected before whites and many blacks will pay attention to them. That is sad, but true.
      Thanks for reading the piece and for commenting!

  3. Very good points. I did not read the book, but I saw the movie, and in my opinion was very good. I enjoyed the ending the most. I believe the ending supports the saying, “no one can take away your education.” Who knows what the creation of this movie/story and may others may lead to…the truth??

    1. The ending made it possible for some to accept the entire story. It was a feel-good venture, not reality, but, like I said, it may spark some people to want to know more about what actually was real.
      Thanks for your comment!

  4. Thanks, Pastor Smith. Your take on the movie and the book is interesting. It is diametrically opposed to what the African American Female Historians group is saying. I will send you a few of their “takes” on a white woman telling the story of Black women. I will put you in dialogue with them and with Ron Karenga.

    1. Thanks. I’ll look forward to sharing with them. I am reading Alice Childress’ book now. The introduction to the book in and of itself was powerful. One of my sisters here said that books written by blacks about domestics have never been given attention, and of course I am not surprised. Even Childress’ book was kind of ignored by black publishers…Thanks again for reading my piece and commenting!

  5. While Stockett’s depiction of the maids’ delemma may be “disinfected”, she did leave us with the deep-rooted,psycological effect which racist behaviors have on both races especially close up and personal.
    While NO white person could ever feel our story, I think Katherine scratched the first layer opening up awareness for those in denial and those who had not a clue…only because they’ve never heard the story!

    1. Thanks, Joyce. I agree. Stockett may well have opened the eyes of some who live in darkness about “what was” in this country and inspired them to delve further into history. That would be a good thing.

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