Change Begins With A Whisper English Literature Essay

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Change begins with a whisper.

23/01/2013 V4C, Mrs. Wijngaarden

Introduction

I chose to read the novel The Help by Kathryn Stockett. The Help has been and still is an inspiration for black and white women all over the world. The novel illustrates racism between those two very clearly. Nowadays racism is not such a problem as it used to be anymore, but everyone who thinks it had disappeared is wrong. Situations as those from in The Help still exist. The novel is about two black best friends who work for white rich families. They take care of their children and the households, hence the title ‘The Help’. The two black maids, Aibileen and Minny, have trouble accepting the way they are treated but are also aware of the fact that they are expected to do what their misters or misses tell them to do. White woman Skeeter Phelan is different, she sees past their difference in race and has other ambitions than her white friends. As all of her girlfriends consider marriage their final destination, all Skeeter really wants is to become a successful writer, one to make a difference. There comes a point Skeeter realizes something needs to be done about the oppressions of black people, she decides to write about it. Aibileen and Minny are willing to contribute, even though they know how dangerous this is. Black people are not supposed to work together with white people. A friendship starts to flourish and the three women begin to walk a path towards equality, filled with obstacles they are determined to overcome.

The Help takes place in the 1960’s, a time of racism at its worst. It is set in Jackson, Mississippi. The novel counts a number of themes, one of which of course is racism. Other themes are literature and writing, justice, violence, society and class and of course sweet love contrary to bitter hatred.

The novel is as realistic as can be, since it is first of all based on true stories and second of all about a subject that has been ravaging black women for a long time.

Analysis of the book

A. What conflict do the leading characters have to deal with, explaining both external and internal conflicts? Are they resolved?

The leading characters are Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter. All three have to deal with both external and internal conflicts, whereas the external conflicts are the dominating ones. One of those conflicts is human vs. society. The three women go against the system that regulates society from the moment they start their fight against racism on. The conflict their facing is thus a racial conflict. At the end the conflict is partly resolved. Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter have definitely achieved something, black people are appreciated more and can go to the same library as white people now, but blacks are still considered of less importance than whites.

Another external conflict is human vs. human. Every novel needs a villain, The Help has Hilly Holbrook to cover that. Two out of the three leading characters face conflicts with her, Minny and Skeeter. Minny is the maid of Hilly’s mom, but she and Hilly get caught up in a mean kind of quarrel. Out of revenge Minny does, as how she likes to call it, ‘The Very Bad Thing’. She made Hilly a chocolate pie, or in reality a pie stuffed with her own poop. When Minny moves away in the end of the novel, this conflict is resolved.

The conflict between Skeeter and Hilly develops later in the book. Hilly finds out Skeeter wrote about her in her book, which is the end of many years of friendship. Skeeter leaves her former best friend behind when she moves to New York, resolving the conflict.

The internal conflicts are all human vs. self. All participants of the book Skeeter is writing have doubts. Aibileen and Minny of course, but mostly Minny. Aibileen made up her mind quite fast, while Minny still struggles with her own thoughts. Of course she wants to speak up and tell the truth, but she is very aware of the danger she would get herself in to. Eventually this is resolved, Minny realizes things need to be changed and wants to help Skeeter. Skeeter herself has doubts too. Not because she doesn’t know how to feel about black people, but because of her surroundings. She has grown up in a racist society and is ought to believe what her family and friends believe. She is also aware of their dangerous situation, but resolves her conflict by deciding to go through with the book.

B. From what or whose point of view is the story told? Does this change? How is the story told (in order/flashbacks)? What is the effect on you as a reader?

The storyteller changes all the time. In the first couple of chapters the book is written from Aibileen’s point of view, after her comes Minny and finally Skeeter. It continues like this, but the chapter ‘The Benefit’ is written in the third person. I like the switching between their different points of views, because it gives you a clear idea of everyone’s feelings. Kathryn Stockett did this with a purpose, she let Skeeter narrate several chapters to show a white person’s perspective too. She said: "I just didn’t think that I would ever be allowed to sit on the shelf, so I threw Skeeter in the mix and I felt a little better about it, because I was showing a white perspective as well."

The story does not contain flashbacks, but the leading characters do think about events from the past regularly. Aibileen thinks a lot about her past away son Treelore, but the story does not go back in time because Treelore stays dead and it is clear Aibileen is only thinking. Skeeter however does also think back a lot, but in her situation this creates some confusion. At some point she talks about old times with their former maid, Constantine. When I read this, it made me feel as if we had really gone back in time, but in reality we hadn’t. So even though it feels a bit like a flashback, it is not. The story is told in chronological order.

C. Does the story contain: symbolism, suspense, irony, satire, a surprise ending, incongruity? Explain.

Symbolism is a returning factor in the novel. Mainly in language, for example when Aibileen says a bitter seed was planted inside her when her son died. "But it wasn't too long before I seen something in me had changed. A bitter seed was planted inside a me. And I just didn't feel so accepting anymore." she said. The bitter seed symbolizes the change she had gone through. Another symbolic quote of Aibileen is "No, white womans like to keep they hands clean. They got a shiny little set a tools they use, sharp as witches fingernails, tidy and laid out neat, like the picks on a dentist tray. They gone take they time with them." With this the cruelty of women is meant. As men take care of their differences with violence, women will slowly take you down.

Symbolism is also used when Skeeter is driving around in her car and the song ‘The Times They Are a-Changing’ by Bob Dylan is played on the radio. It symbolizes the progress of her plan, ever since she started writing her book things have been changing around her.

The suspense in the story is clearly present when the helps and Skeeter decide to really write about the way the maids are treated. The reader can almost feel how dangerous this is, which creates a great tension. Another form of suspense is when Minny has to hide in miss Celia’s toilet because she thinks mister Johnny is coming home, while in fact it’s not him.

A lot of irony is used in The Help. An example of this is when Hilly warns Skeeter about racists, saying "Be careful, Skeeter.  This town is full of real racists, and if they find out what you are doing, there could be real trouble." Obviously Hilly fails to see she is talking about herself.

The novel also shows symptoms of a satire. Mainly on the white community, The Help illustrates very well how limited the minds of some people are. For example when Hilly proposes the ridiculous law that says the black maids should have their own toilets: "A bill that requires every white home to have a separate bathroom for the coloured help. I've even notified the surgeon general of Mississippi to see if he'll endorse the idea." This would supposedly be so that the help could not pass on dirty diseases, while in fact it is just racism and stupidity at its worst.

The ending of The Help is not quite surprising, but nevertheless really sad. Aibileen is fired and Mae Mobley cries agonizingly heartbreaking. This does not really come as a surprise and is not a sudden twist in the storylines, because the end of the novel basically symbolized all characters as they were.

The Help also contains some incongruity, for example the relationship between the maids and the children they are raising. The children are mostly ignored by their mothers and develop a loving bond with their maids. Incongruous is that once they have grown up they will probably end up being just like their mothers and look down on the person they used to love dearly.

Opinion

A. What is your impression of the story? Would you recommend it to others? What elements did you like / dislike? Does it have a moral? Was the author successful?

I was really impressed by the story of The Help. As mentioned before, the novel perfectly illustrates the injustice of that time. The book is an inspiration and an eye-opener that reveals the truth a lot of people have always been afraid to face. But not only is the story prodigious, in my opinion the writing is magnificent too. Kathryn Stockett chose her words with visible care. In addition the way she lets Aibileen and Minny speaks provides the reader with a clear vision. Their incorrect use of grammar fits perfectly with their personalities. Besides, they have bigger problems to worry about than grammar.

I would most definitely recommend this novel to others, both men and women. The message of the story is present loud and clear, and should be heard by everyone.

I liked the element of the changing point of view, it gives the reader the ability to step into all three characters their shoes. To experience the story from both sides.

The moral of this story is obvious, a difference in race is as meaningless as a piece of gum on the floor. The colour of your skin does not determine the colour of your character and personality. Treat people by the way you would like to be treated, not by their skin.

The author of The Help was incredibly successful, her book has been on the New York Times Best Sellers list for two years. In addition, it woke people all over the world up and became one of the most discussed novels in history. The book was even successful enough to appear on the big screen. You can certainly say that Kathryn Stockett’s novel debut became her breakthrough.

B. Write a short book review for the school newspaper explaining your viewpoint on the novel. Give good examples, and your favorite quote from the book.

Kathryn Stockett’s The Help is an insightful and button-pushing novel about a white woman standing up for the oppressed black maids. Contrary to her white girlfriends, she does not aim to be the perfect wife, but she aims to become the writer of a world-changing book. Skeeter Phelan is an ambitious and open-minded woman, unfortunately surrounded by women with hearts as cold as stone. As those women spend their days playing bridge, she starts a complot against them with the help of two of the hardest working maids in whole Jackson, Mississippi. The strong and life-experienced Aibileen is the first one to dive in, followed by her sassy best friend Minny Jackson. The three women lived in a time where the black people weren’t treated much better than slaves ever were, but were determined to make an end to this. After internal struggles they all come to the same decision, they are going to tell the truth. As this decision is made, they find themselves at the beginning of a long and dangerous path but keep walking until the very end. They are all aware of the terrible things that could happen if people find out about what they are doing, but are willing to take the risk. Skeeter, born and raised in a wealthy, white and racist family, can lose everything. Basically what she’s doing is betraying her family and friends, writing about them as the villains they actually are. Aibileen risks getting her job and her dignity taken away from her, because she realizes very well what kind of horrible things the white misses will say about her when the truth comes out. To Minny this has already happened, after making her former boss eat a poop pie, literally saying ‘Eat my shit.’. Nevertheless also she is faced with enormous risks, she could put her family to shame and devastate her own and her loved ones lives. While travelling through their journey, the reader comes across moments of agonizing pain, heartbreaking sadness and bitter hate, but also moments of true happiness, relief and sweet love. Not to forget the hilarious aspects and the irony throughout the whole novel. With inspiring quotes as "All my life I'd been told what to believe about politics, coloureds, being a girl. But with Constantine's thumb pressed in my hand, I realized I actually had a choice in what I could believe" and "Ugly live up on the inside. Ugly be a hurtful, mean person" the novel guides you through part of Skeeter’s, Aibileen’s and Minny’s lives and their brave fight against racism. Whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever colour your skin is, reading The Help is more than worth your time.

General information on the author (in your own words)

Kathryn Stockett was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1969, about the same time her novel is set. The inspiration for her book was her own life. She had experienced it all, how the black maid becomes one of your dearest loved ones. Her and her family’s help was named Demetrie, and meant the world to Stockett. Demetrie is much like the novel’s Aibileen, as Demetrie once told Stockett the same as Aibileen told Mae Mobley: "You is kind. You is smart. You is important." Another resemblance between Kathryn Stockett’s maid and a maid from her novel is with Constantine, Skeeter’s former maid. At a time both Stockett and Skeeter were down, their help was the only one there for them. Kathryn Stockett’s life story is not only important to the book, it made the book.

The novel is set in the 1960’s, Kathryn Stockett lived the first years of her life in the 1970’s. Even though the laws had changed, the racially segregated society hadn’t. The political circumstances were similar to those in the novels. Black people were still expected to have their own toilets, only visit their own movie theatres and their own grocery stores.

Stockett had many reasons to write The Help. In a way she resembles The Help’s Skeeter. They both realized their ambivalent feelings about their surroundings. They were different, they actually cared about black people too. But the main reason Kathryn started writing The Help, was to drive away her loneliness. As she says herself: "I started writing it the day after Sept. 11. I was living in New York City. We didn't have any phone service and we didn't have any mail. Like a lot of writers do, I started to write in a voice that I missed. I was really homesick – I couldn't even call my family and tell them I was fine. So I started writing in the voice of Demetrie, the maid I had growing up." Demetrie’s voice became Aibileen’s, which was the beginning of Stockett’s great success.

The Help was Stockett’s debut novel and won multiple awards. Several awards and honours she received are New York Times bestseller, Exclusive Books Boeke Prize, Amazon’s Best Book of the Year, SIBA Book Award and Orange Prize. These were followed by many others. In addition to all these awards, prizes and honours, Kathryn Stockett received a great amount of respect. She gave herself a voice and spoke up, told the truth.