I finally read The Help then watched the film. I am not going to talk about the film because the book, as usual, is better as a whole. Seeing the story transpired on motion picture aroused thoughts that previously had not occurred to me. Many people have criticized its lack of historical accuracy, distorting and trivializing experiences of black domestic workers. Others go as far as calling the book racist, patronizing the blacks. As per these accusations, I can understand their origin, but I don’t think the writer is liable to give us a complete history of black domestic workers in the south. What the book does, as befit in literature, is to show a social condition that had and still continues to define our society called America. Who dares to say racism doesn’t exist now? Not outwardly, not in the infuriating form of segregation laws, but in a more subtle, mendacious, and insidious manner.
In The Help, we see racial discrimination at work among the ladies in the Junior League club. The chairman of the organization is one Hilly Holbrook, who adopts an antebellum attitude towards race. She pushes this health initiative that requires every home t have a separate toilet for the help that every family has working for them, because the help, of African American descent, carries diseases to which whites are not immune. This Hilly also wields so much power that she can strike fear to anyone who dares to oppose her. She is, excuse my language, enough of a bitch for readers to wait eagerly for a house to fall on her. She is the nemesis—but she is also the society, for she inflicts injustice to the black maids. Out of fear for being disembodied from the local society, the women’s only choice is to comply with Hilly.
When Hilly’s friend decides on write about the black maids’ life, she urges to have all the maids fired. Behind this masterly constructed plot with women from both sides of the racial divide, The Help has awakened the subject from which we shudder. Racism is a snowball effect, a herd mentality. So blinded are these women who would support the cause to raise money for starving kids in Africa but treat their only maids as an alien race, despite the fact that they prepare the food, care for the children, and clean every part of every home. Why? Because a conscious act of independent humanity is what society can least afford. If they once let that in, there would be no end to it. Having accepted society’s discriminatory standard, and under the watch of Hilly, these ladies dare not to be friends with their maids, let alone being their allies.
The book is not racist, our society is.