Thursday, August 13, 2009
Mudbound put me in the mood for more Southern fiction. Lucky me, I just happened to have The Help sitting on my bookshelf screaming for attention. All I knew was it was set in the South and people seem to like it. Good enough for me.
Set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960’s, The Help is the story of three women. Aibileen and Minny are black maids/nannies. Underpaid and at the mercy of their white employers, these women have no recourse because it’s the South and it’s the 1960’s…segregation, Jim Crow laws and all that nastiness. Skeeter Phelan, on the other hand, is a member of the white privileged class. Skeeter increasingly finds herself questioning the racist actions and comments of her bridge partners and fellow Junior Leaguers. Because Skeeter wants to be a writer, she comes up with the idea of collecting the maids’ stories and featuring them in a book. This isn’t so easy, though. First, no one wants to talk to her. Then, everyone wants to talk to her and there is the threat of discovery.
While Mudbound is more about subtle racism (although, yes, there are some brutally racist comments and scenes), I think The Help shows more overt actions. We see how the maids are treated…there is some good, and there is a lotta bad. We see how attitudes and actions dictate a woman’s acceptance into white society. We see how force and fear can rule a person’s life. And we see how much courage it takes to stand up to institutionalized racism, even when your stand is in the form of a book illustrating how black maids were treated.
Although quite different from Mudbound, I found this book to be equally fascinating and well-written. Mudbound has a bit more diversity in characters (and slightly stronger characterization…but then it is entirely in first person point of view), whereas I found myself pulling more for the three main characters in The Help. If you are at all interested in reading about life in the segregated South, I’d recommend both of them.