Racial segregation
and dissociation are important themes in Kathryn Stockett’s, The Help. The novel tells the story of
African American women living in the South who work for different white
employers. The story is set in 1962, at a time when racism was rampant and the Civil
Rights Act of 1964 was still a distant dream. For many people reading about
these events today, themes about topics like Martin Luther King’s
assassination, or civil rights marches, or segregation, are what get the most
attention. In “The Help,” Stockett makes the issue of racism and what society
was like in the South much more personal by focusing on the lives of these women
and the people they worked for. Stockett makes the issues come to life in a way
that history books are not always able to do. Stockett highlights the humanity
in both sides, while also displaying their faults and suffering at the hands of
an opposing race.

 

Aibileen is the
first character whose benevolence and pain are shown in the novel. To begin,
Aibileen is constantly pushed by Mrs. Leefolt into using another washroom so
that the family doesn’t catch diseases: “So from now on, instead of using the guest
bathroom, you can use your own, right out there. Won’t that be nice?” (Stockett,
34). This implies a subtle but aggressive racism towards Aibileen. At the same
time, Aibileen had little choice in the matter, as there were not many jobs for
black women in the South in the 1960s: “the landlord wasn’t gone wait much
longer” (4). The lack of job opportunities makes Aibileen desperate to make
money. Aibileen’s life of sorrow is further explored as her son died before the
events of the novel: “She always been a strong woman, always fighting, after
Treelore died, she carry supper over to me ever night for three months
straight” (32). Aibileen’s grievance and strength to overcome Treelore’s death
show her as more than just an emotionless ‘negro’. As expressed, Aibileen’s
emotions and loss display the lack of difference between races and human beings.

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Skeeter is a
Caucasian character whose empathy for the struggles of African-American people
lead her to a mountain of problems. Skeeter was raised as a child by a very
loving and kind African-American woman named Constantine. She never truly
understood the split between races: “I guess I thought it would be like
visiting Constantine, where friendly colored people waved and smiled, happy to
see the little white girl whose daddy owned the big farm. But here, narrow eyes
watch me pass by” (121). In these brief lines, Stockett reveals the division
that existed between blacks and whites in the South, and how the racism of
white people makes black people understandably suspicious of whites. In a
speech delivered the same year in which the book is set (1962), famed civil
rights leader Malcom X spoke about the “crisis of racism.” In this speech, he
addressed the “hypocrisy of…white so-called liberals” who spoke about racism
but did not do anything about it (“Malcolm X – The Crisis Of Racism – May
1, 1962”). This is applicable to the character of Skeeter, who wants to
stand up and speak out against racism, but still must deal with the suspicion
of black people who may not trust her or even take her seriously. Even if her
heart is in the right place, Skeeter can never really understand what life was
like for the maiden who raised her or the people she is reaching out to when
she is trying to work on her book and convince people to tell their stories. In
the end, Skeeter gets her book published, and it includes both good and bad
stories about how black people were treated in her time: “And that is why I
wrote this book” (530). Stockett’s novel is effective because it feels
realistic, as if it could have been written about people who lived and took
part in events that really happened. Skeeter’s humanity and belief in equality
are also the cause of her boyfriend Stuart retracting a marriage proposal: “I
just… don’t understand why you would do this. Why do you even… care about this,
Skeeter?” “I don’t… think I can marry somebody I don’t know” (449). Stuart is
completely blindsided by Skeeter telling him that she is writing a book that
represents African-American struggles. His white privilege makes him unaware to
the injustice of the racial segregation. Consequently, Skeeter is a character
whose compassion unknowingly guides her into trouble. 

 

Minny is a
special character who faces and commits terrible deeds, concerning someone of
another race. Firstly, Hilly Holbrook spreads a rumor to all future employers
and tells them that Minny stole from her: “She telling everybody in town I’m
stealing! That’s why I can’t get no work!” (25). Minny needs a job to support
her family, but cannot do so if Hilly hinders her chances at a future job. One
occasion where Minny takes revenge on Hilly is when she her a pie of her own
feces, and feeds it to her: “Well Hilly, that’s what you get, I guess. And I
wouldn’t go tattling on Minny either, or you’ll be known all over town as the
lady who ate two slices of Minny’s shit” (399). Feeding Hilly fecal matter is
one of the most disgusting things that could happen to someone. Finally, Hilly
sends Minny’s abusive husband Leroy into a rage aimed towards Minny: “They
fired Leroy last night! Holbrook told him it’s Leroy’s nigger wife the reason
and Leroy come home and try to kill me with his bare hands!” (514). Leroy’s
behavior is manageable in most occasions, but after losing his job and being
told it was his wife’s fault, he spiraled out of control and hauntingly
attempted to hurt his family. Therefore, Minny is unique in the sense that she
gives and takes acts of aggression to those of another race.

 

Stockett
displays the kindness in both races, while also presenting their wrongdoings and
anguish at the exploitation of an opposing race. Stockett styles the subject of
racism and how society embraced it far greater by fixating on the ‘little
voices’ and the people who are not usually heard from. What makes “The Help” so interesting is that it is
not one-sided, and no one is perfect. People on both sides of the racial divide
are good in some ways and bad in others. Stockett makes a broad statement about
a time when people were starting to wake up to the realities of racism but does
it by telling simple, realistic stories about the lives of people who lived
through that awakening. That period of time led to many of the greatest
influences on civil rights, such as Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Malcolm
X, and many others. They led the charge to create the modern and equal era we
live in today. In conclusion, racial dissociation and segregation are significant
themes in both the novel, and the real world.