The The Help by Kathryn Stockett takes place during the 1960’s in Mississippi. Throughout this time period and especially in the south, segregation and the race dominance was prominent. During that time Black women had few options but to labor as slaves for wealthy white families. Kathryn Stockett takes a daring and humane step as a white woman with no experience as a maid. She has two narrators in her book who are maids for her family, tell their perspective of what it is like to live as maids. In the novel, white privilege and the mistreatment of the characters due to race and gender is extremely present. This book could be analyzed through the critical race lens, feminist lens and new critism lens.
Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan uses skills that she acquired from a college education to write about and represent the maids who were not allotted the chance to be educated. Skeeter finds that while she was away, her childhood friends, led by the malicious Hilly, at the age of 22, are suddenly controlling the whole town of Jackson. With the guidance of Hilly, these heartless white women are now capable of horrifying disrespect toward their former nannies and are unitedly enforcing a deep separation between the blacks and whites. Hilly’s racist agenda, other than embarrassing and disgracing Minny, her maid, every opportunity she gets, is to establish a complete and total segregation between races. On page eight Hilly states, “‘That’s exactly why I’ve designed the Home Help Sanitation Initiative… As a disease-preventative measure… A bill that requires every white home to have a separate bathroom for the colored help.
I’ve even notified the surgeon general of Mississippi to see if he’ll endorse the idea.’” Miss Hilly verbally coneys her belief that blacks are literally “unclean,” susceptible to moral degeneracy and transmissible illnesses that whites do not have. She hopes to have a state ordinance passed that would require all white households have a separate “colored” bathroom on the property. Thus, prohibiting the black maids from using their family bathroom. Excluding their caretakers from “the family,” and the absence of Hilly and her friends displaying love for their former nannies who basically raised them, causes Skeeter to question the racism that is happening within her society. Minny and Aibileen, sometimes have to go to the shops and buy items for the white families that they tend to. However, they can only go into the stores that the blacks attend.
These facilities are gravely unalike from the ones that the whites go to. In the novel, this difference is revealed in an explanation of the store for the blacks named Piggly Wiggly, “Miss Celia and I make a list of what to cook that week… I have to drive all the way to Jitney Jungle in town instead of Piggly Wiggly by me since I figure she won’t eat food from a colored grocery store and I reckon I don’t blame her, with the potatoes haveing inch-long eyes and the milk almost sour” (Stockett 41). As seen in the illustration, the goods sold at the black shops seem almost repulsive and much lower grade than that of the white shops.
The novel also conveys the idea that racism is not something inherited, but rather passed on through generations by the teachings of parents and school professors. In the early stages of the white children’s lives, they inhabit no prejudice against the black maids. It is even observed by Aibileen during her experience raising seventeen white children. She sees the children start to become nasty toward her when they are taught to withhold a racist attitude by their parents and teachers. For instance, when Mae Mobley illustrates a portrait of herself using a black crayon, her teacher scolds her and says that people will think she is “dirty” if she draws herself with a black crayon because blacks are “dirty”. To maintain their privilege and racial hierarchy, whites teach their children the racist ways that they were once taught. Thus, allowing for complete control over African Americans, and economic and political leverage.