The Help by author Kathryn Stockett

An Emotional Journey Through Racism and Segregation in Mississippi


Kathryn Stockett takes readers on an intensely emotional journey to 1960s Mississippi in her debut novel The Help. Through the perspectives of three courageous women, we gain insight into the strict segregation and racism that shaped society in the American South during this turbulent time.

The Help by author Kathryn Stockett

You can find The Help by author Kathryn Stockett on your favorite bookstore, including and Amazon UK.

About author Kathryn Stockett

Author Kathryn Stockett

Kathryn Stockett is a bestselling American novelist best known for her debut novel, The Help, which became a cultural phenomenon upon its release in 2009. Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Stockett drew on her own experiences growing up in the South in the 1960s and 1970s to craft the moving story of black domestic workers and their complicated relationships with their white employers.

From an early age, Stockett was an avid reader and blossoming writer. She studied English and creative writing at the University of Alabama, graduating with honors. After college, she moved to New York City to work in magazine publishing and marketing. Yet through it all, she felt the pull to write fiction. The seeds for The Help had already been planted through the stories Stockett heard from her family’s African-American maid, Demetrie. It wasn’t until after the death of Demetrie that Stockett found the motivation to finally bring this powerful story to life.

In The Help, Stockett gave voice to black women domestic workers in the early 1960s—women like Aibileen and Minny who worked tirelessly to raise the children of white families while enduring racism, discrimination, and disrespect. Though fiction, the novel shed light on an often overlooked perspective. It showcased the strength and dignity of African-American women as well as the complex bonds between black maids and their white employers.

The Help spent over 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. It has sold over 8 million copies worldwide and has been published in 35 languages. The 2011 film adaptation was a massive box office success, cementing the novel’s status in the cultural zeitgeist. Both book and movie sparked important dialogue about race relations then and now.

Since her smashing success, Stockett continues to be an advocate. She supports emerging writers through scholarships like the PEN/Hemingway award. She also works to preserve historic black neighborhoods in her native Jackson. Stockett currently lives outside Atlanta with her husband and daughter.

Kathryn Stockett dared to start an uncomfortable but necessary conversation with her artfully-told, runaway bestseller. She gave voice to the voiceless while shining a light on a painful chapter in America’s history. Though The Help thrust her into the international spotlight, Stockett stays true to her roots through her philanthropy and activism. Her debut novel left an indelible mark on literature and culture, cementing Stockett’s status as a generational talent.

The Plot

The Help revolves around three women – Skeeter, a young, liberal-minded white woman who returns from college with dreams of becoming a writer; Aibileen, a wise black maid raising her seventeenth white child; and Minny, Aibileen’s sassy friend who has just been fired from her latest job.

Skeeter’s Dangerous Idea

Eager to launch her writing career, Skeeter comes up with the dangerous idea of chronicling the experiences of black maids working for white families in her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. At great personal risk, Aibileen and Minny bravely decide to share the truth of their daily lives.

As the book progresses, we witness the maids’ stories of hardship, discrimination and mistreatment by their white employers. Yet their resilience, dignity and compassion shine through.

The Risks They Took

If discovered speaking so openly about white families, Aibileen, Minny and the other maids participating could lose their jobs or worse. Skeeter herself faces scrutiny for her progressive views on integration and civil rights.

But the risk is worth it, as the book becomes an anonymously published bestseller that rocks the town and has profound consequences for all involved.

The Characters

Skeeter – An Aspiring Writer

Recently graduated from Ole Miss, Skeeter returns home with ambitions of being a journalist. Tall, skinny and boyish-looking, she doesn’t fit the mold of a proper Southern lady.

Outspoken and non-conformist, she pushes societal boundaries by living alone, lacking interest in finding a husband, and pursuing a career. Her liberal arts education also gives her greater social awareness on issues like racism.

Aibileen – A Motherly Maid

Wise, dignified and intensely moral, Aibileen is a housemaid who acts as a caring mother-figure towards the seventeen white children she has raised over the years.

Despite enduring immense grief and abuse herself, she continues to have faith, love and integrity. Her warmth provides young Mae Mobley, her current charge, the nurturing and affection she needs but doesn’t receive from her own mother.

Aibileen agrees to share her story with Skeeter to honor the memory of her son, who died senselessly on the job.

Minny – The Feisty Truth-Teller

Minny is Aibileen’s closest friend whose big personality, brutal honesty and excellent cooking skills are outweighed by her tendency to sass her white employers.

After being fired from her latest job (a story that later appears anonymously in Skeeter’s book), she struggles as a working mother of five living in poverty. Despite the risks, Minny’s courageous decision to share her experience exposes the everyday prejudice she endures.

Her tale is a shocking yet valuable portrait of race relations behind closed doors in 1960s Mississippi.

My Thoughts on The Help

A Compelling Page-Turner

From the opening chapter, I was hooked. The Help is an utterly engrossing page-turner that transports you straight into the segregated world of Jackson high society.

The stakes rapidly increase as the maids inch dangerously closer towards exposure with each interview. At times, I had to close the book from the sheer tenseness wondering if they’d get caught and face violent repercussions.

The Power of Perspective

By relaying this emotionally-charged story through the three women’s alternating voices, we as readers intimately understand the falsely sweet nature of racial etiquette in the South that masks deeper ugliness.

White women like Hilly may portray themselves as high-class ladies, but treat their help with amazing cruelty. Meanwhile, the black maids contain incredible grace and humanity.

Momentously Relevant

At its core, The Help explores how simple human decency can overcome prejudice. Skeeter defaults others to friendship instead of skin color differences. While Aibileen forgives the family she works for despite their role in her son’s death since bitterness won’t change anything.

In today’s age of increased division, we need these hopeful messages of tolerance.

My Only Critique

My sole critique would be that Minny’s vernacular speech patterns verge on caricature at times. Yet we still greatly value her willingness to spotlight damning injustices by white employers rarely discussed so openly, both historically or even now.

Final Verdict

Captivating, emotionally-nuanced and inspiring, The Help leaves us profoundly changed. Through giving voice to Aibileen, Minny and others, Skeeter heroically exposes an ugly legacy of entrenched racism and oppression in the segregated South.

Kathryn Stockett has penned a monumental novel that reminds us of how ordinary people can affect meaningful change. I highly recommend entering the world of The Help. You’ll never view 1960s Mississippi quite the same again.

5 Similar Page-Turning Historical Fiction Reads

If you enjoyed The Help and desire other bold, powerful character-driven stories confronting race, family and societal roles, also consider these highly-rated reads:

  1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee – A famously beloved classic focused on racial injustice in 1930’s Alabama.
  2. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – An artfully-written investigation of the human spirit featuring a wild girl’s isolated upbringing in a Southern marsh town and her involvement in a local murder mystery.
  3. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd – An exquisite coming-of-age tale set in 1960’s South Carolina around a young white girl and black beekeeping sisters that demonstrates the power of female wisdom, strength and love in confronting hatred.
  4. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd – A gripping historical story, inspired by real events, about an aspiring abolitionist and the slave girl she receives, showing how defiance can change destinies.
  5. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah – A vivid portrait of the American west during the Great Depression, highlighting the incredible fortitude of one woman determined to keep her family alive amidst economic and environmental catastrophe.


What is the setting of The Help?

The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi during the early 1960s at the height of the civil rights movement. The story follows several African American maids working in white households and their struggles with racism, discrimination, and finding dignity in the work they do caring for the children of their employers. The segregation and racial tensions of the South at that time provide an important backdrop.

What perspective is The Help written from?

The Help utilizes three different narrative perspectives – those of Aibileen Clark, Minny Jackson, and Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan. Aibileen and Minny are black maids telling their stories to Skeeter, a young white woman, who compiles them into a book exposing the hardships domestic workers faced. Getting all these varied viewpoints personalizes the civil rights issues at the heart of the story.

Who are the main characters in The Help?

There are three main characters. Aibileen Clark is a middle-aged maid known for her skill caring for children. Minny Jackson is Aibileen’s friend who is known for her culinary skills and sassy attitude. Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan is a young white woman and aspiring writer back from college with ambitions of becoming a journalist and writing a book from the point of view of “the help”.

Why did Kathryn Stockett pick “The Help” as the novel title?

It refers to the platoon of African American maids and nannies working in white Southern households in the early 1960s. Though often nameless to their employers, Kathryn Stockett gives them a voice in telling their stories of hardship, discrimination and mistreatment, as well as the bonds with the white children under their care. The title emphasizes how little credit these domestic workers received for the vital services they provided.

Why did Kathryn Stockett write The Help?

Stockett wanted to face Mississippi’s racist past by showing the perspective of the black maids who raised white children while facing the racism and disrespect of their employers. She wished to reveal the obstacles for African Americans, especially women, living in the segregationist 1960s South. The Help tries to capture their struggles, relationships, friendships, and small triumphs in the broader context of the civil rights movement.

How long did it take Kathryn Stockett to write The Help?

Stockett worked on the novel for five years, conducting extensive interviews with her family’s former maid and other African American maids to capture their voices and experiences. This meticulous approach helped her craft authentic characters and emotional resonance in the stories of prejudice and injustice these women endured while doing their difficult jobs.

What civil rights issues does The Help explore?

It examines racism, segregation laws, Jim Crow attitudes that permeated the South, lack of justice and opportunities for blacks, the hardships for African Americans – especially women – making a living in a prejudiced society, and the small daily insults and dangers black people endured under white supremacy. But it also shows their friendships, solidarity, and quiet strength.

How was The Help received when it was published?

The Help was very well received and spent over three years on the New York Times bestseller list. Critics praised Stockett’s exploration of race, society and human relationships in the 1960s South through a dramatic, intensely personal story. Some reviewers also said Stockett provided a complex glimpse into the caste system between blacks and whites in the segregationist South.

How timely are the issues explored in The Help today?

While legally sanctioned segregation and racism are no longer in place, many reviewers said Stockett’s honest confrontation with racial inequality and the legacy of discrimination in her novel still resonate. Issues like unfair treatment in the workplace, lack of opportunity, and subtle prejudices give the themes lasting relevance. The message about empowerment through sharing hidden stories also connects with modern audiences.

What is the significance of the point of view chosen for The Help?

Stockett gave voices to black maids by capturing the untold indignities and injustices they experienced working in white Southern homes, while also bringing an honest portrayal of complex dynamics between white women and their maids. This personal point of view enabled her to vividly depict the rampant racism and passive cruelty that coexisted alongside affection in these complex relationships, shining a light on this unexamined world.

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