The Help

It seems very appropriate on this day of celebration of Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday (even though his actual birth anniversary was three days ago) to have spent the weekend reading the book The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.

From Kathryn Stockett’s website, this is the synopsis:

Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

I find, as I get older, I think more and more about how it is that people treat each other, treat others. I also just finished another amazing novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a novel of the immediate post-WWII period which I found very touching and sweet, but also profound in its descriptions of how the German occupiers treated the Guernsey islanders as well as Polish slaves they brought to the Island, the only part of England to have been taken over and occupied during World War II.

Although I highly recommend both these books, the thing I really want to talk about is how each sheds light on humanity. The ways in which humans who, for one reason or another –  and most of the time the reasons are plain luck, or fate – are able to set themselves over others and make the lives of others pure misery, just because they can. Because, somehow, they feel themselves to be inherently better, or worth more, than those who they have sway over. That was exactly the human tendency which Hitler tapped into by urging the German populace to think themselves better, more human, than the Jews – Germans themselves, but not as “good” or “worthy” as the Aryan Germans. And he spread that evil tendency to the rest of Europe as well.

In the same way, because it was dark-skinned people brought against their will from Africa to become slaves in the new continent that became the US, whites set themselves up over the blacks automatically, easily succumbing to that human tendency to ignore or deny the like humanity of each other.  As the author of The Help has one of the characters note,

Wasn’t that the point of the book? [that the women are writing together] For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.

And yet, on and on and on, the human race focuses on divides, on differences, on “better” or “worse” and endeavors endlessly to maintain what separates us, the lines that we draw between each other. Every time I reflect on this idea that we each, individually and through our group entities such as companies and government, focus only on how to set ourselves up over someone else, emotionally, politically, financially, and societally, it just makes me really quite depressed.

Will we ever change? Will we ever grow? Will we ever learn to see our humanity, and that you are just like me and I am just like you? We are all part of the same creation. Let’s lift each other up, let us give to each other, let us serve each other. And really, the title of the book, The Help, kind of says it all, doesn’t it? Let’s HELP each other.



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