A few weeks ago I went on a road trip with my husband and some very dear friends. I tend to get a little bored sitting in the back seat watching the scenery go by, so I decided that it would be much easier if I listened to a book on my IPOD. I chose The Help, by Katherine Stockett. This book was written in 2009 and at the time received rave reviews. It has recently been released as a movie, and I thought it would be a good idea to read the book before I saw the movie.
The Help is a fictional work that takes place in Jackson, Mississippi, and has three main characters. The audio version was read by women who all had rich southern accents. The story was a fully developed narrative that lets the reader explore the relationships of these southern women during the sixties to other women, to their children, to their “help”, to their white family employers, to their husbands, etc. But the story was about much more than relationships. It was a reminder to the reader that that even in the face of overwhelming odds, a little courage from a few can change an entire world. We are reminded also that acceptance of the status quo by the majority doesn’t necessarily make it right. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. But I am somewhat biased because this book is a close reflection of the times and the area of the country where I was raised as a child.
I grew up in the south, and in fact still have family in Alabama and Mississippi. When I was a child, my brothers and I often spent our summers with our grandparents in Tuskegee, Alabama. Tuskegee was much like the author’s version of life in Jackson, Mississippi. It was a simple life. The details of the story reminded me of much that I had come to know during that time. I loved hearing the southern drawls and the general feel of the story. I had to remind myself time and again that it was a fictional work. There were times that I felt the story was somewhat cliché, and at other times I thought it was a thoughtful work, highlighting some very poignant issues. By the time I reached the end of the book, I was sad to have it be over. I had come to know these women and loved them for their strengths, and their weaknesses. I loved their flaws, as well as their courage.
What was interesting was how I felt as I was reminded of those times. The late fifties and early sixties in the south was a time of great change. We had forced desegregation of the schools, Martin Luther King marches in Atlanta, the killing of Medgar Evers, and the assassination of President Kennedy to name a few. And yet as a child, I was unaware of the significance of some of these events. Now as an adult, I can better appreciate what was going on and the enormous amount of change that has occurred over the last forty five years. Throughout this book, I was reminded of people in my life like Shug and Janie, who taught me how to shell peas, and pick berries for cobblers. From them I learned how hard it was to pick cotton and that working inside the house was always going to be the better choice. (I hadn’t thought so prior to working a few hours in the fields.) During those times, I would hear from them words of wisdom that would later mold my character and passion to help and nurture others.
The book left me a little unsettled, however. (I believe most good books do cause us to ponder opportunities for change.) I began to wonder how much my own biases affected the way that I treated others. Even today I wonder how much do I truly appreciate the differences in people outside my immediate circle? Am I still unaware of the people that interact with me laterally, and treat them as if they are not there? I surely hope not. But I can tell you this much. I am committing to wake up to opportunities to better appreciate others in my life. To take the time to say thank you and to really mean it.
In closing, I hope you take the time to read this book. I think you will enjoy being reminded of the some of the changes that our country has gone through. I know you will be encouraged by seeing the incredible strengths that we as women have and how when we are willing, we can change the world.