Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Help...Reflections on a novel

Upon reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett, I thought I would share a few reflections as the book had a profound effect on me emotionally. The first being that my favorite character in the book was by far Aibileen because she was in opinion the silent hero of the novel. At times she would be treated with such disrespect by Mrs. Leefolt and Hilly, yet she always remained quiet and did her job with little complaint. At first this passive quality bothered me about her and I wasn't able to fully appreciate it until the end of the novel, where I expected her to finally stand up to Hilly, but instead she remained graceful and dignified, which was most heart-breaking. Although the main characters all make out in the end with hopes of a fresh start as well as Aibileen, I couldn't help but feel a deep sadness for her at the loss of her beloved "children." Her walking down that road brought tears to my eyes because in a way I did feel as though she had been defeated, even though she had gained so much.

This book also made me reflect deeply about myself as a mother. I wonder now what my mom, husband, friends and family think of me as a mother. Am I uptight, critical, loving, stern, protective, careless....? would I even want to know? The mother's in this story play crucial roles, yet we only get to view them from the perspectives of the maids and Skeeter (the child), and the reader is made privy to the many flaws that these mothers all have. What will my own children say about me in the future? What does my 4yr old think of me now? Hilly, on the other hand is made out to be a wonderful mother, but a horribly vindictive person. The question raised in the novel is, can one be a good mother, but at the same time be a deeply flawed person? I thought about this for a while, and to me it seems that just loving and showing your children love may not be enough to qualify as a good mother. As a Muslim I believe that a good mother is one who raises her children with morals, values, and ethics, and teaches her own children to be fair, just, and trustworthy and to treat others with respect and to not be spiteful, vindictive and hateful. And although Hilly's children are were to small to realize it then, they will when they grow up, and her kids will be a reflection of who she is. On the other hand, I at times sympathized with Elizabeth, and felt that Aibileen's criticism of the way she mothered Mae Mobley to be one-sided. I even compared myself to her, thinking "Oh GOD AM I AN ELIZABETH?" I started conjuring up all the times I yell, or scream or get frustrated with my kids...does that make me unloving? Of course not...but as i read I felt the need to keep reassuring myself that I am NOT that mother. Not all mothers are perfect or know how to show their own children love depending on how they themselves were raised, and I got a very clear idea of how Mrs. Leefolt was raised from her own mother's visits. She was the feared, cold, stern, grandmother. If Elizabeth was raised by such a woman, then how could she be expected to be any different with her own child. And while it is sad, and I felt for Mae Mobley so much and cried for her, because no child should be made to feel the way she was made to feel,  I also feel sympathy for Elizabeth becasue I feel she honestly doesn't have a clue.

Skeeter's mother is another character who I sympathize with greatly. While she is often critical and down right hurtful to her own daughter, you still feel that she does love her and truly just wants whats best for her and the only way she knows how to show this love is to try to constantly "fix" and "change" to be and look the other girls. These women are all just a product of their own upbringing and their environment. And while they should be able to think for themselves and know right from wrong, their reputations and social status is always on the line. In regards to the Maids, their treatment of them is horrendous and unfathomable, but you have to ask yourself, if you were living in that time, would you have put everything on the line to try and change things? I would like to think I would. But I don't know if I would have had Skeeter's courage, maybe I would have. 

Our own characters are definitely shaped by the times in which we live. How many of us today are actually doing anything to make right the many wrongs that are happening on a daily basis? I would like to say we all try in our own ways, but do we really try? Most of us, including myself, are so caught up in our own lives to even think about worrying about changing what's happening in the rest of the world. As scary and risky as it was for Minny, Aibileen, and Skeeter, they did what they knew in their hearts to be right, which brought many consequences not only for them but for others in the community. Minny was a very noble character, I loved the fact that she mouthed off to everyone including her white almighty employers. She stood up for herself to everyone except her husband unfortunately which I found to be very ironic.

The racism depicted in this novel is a part of our past and unfortunately our present, and I don't believe it is inherent, but taught. Aibileen was doing a good job trying to raise Mae Mobley to see past colored skin, but we can only hope that she will grow up to be a product of her teachings and not of her mother's or Hilly's. Racism is still an ugly and shameful part of our daily lives. Has much really changed since the 1960's? Just look at all the comments that were made after The Hunger Games came out about Rue's character! And that is just a minor example of other things that go on out there in the world. May God give me the wisdom, strength, and patience to try and change the things I know and feel to be wrong in this life.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this book. The movie on the other hand was really lacking.

    The part about her raising other "children" yet loving them was beautiful. I have always loved the children of my closest friends, and dread the day when they become too old or too cool to give me hugs and kisses like they do right now.
    I often wonder, when we lose this relationship, and they become distant from me, will I feel as if I've lost someone in my life? Even though they are still there, somewhere?

    So now down to Skeeter, yes she was courageous, but remember she was also trying to launch her career. ON the other hand, YOU, may not like Skeeter. You are your own brand of courageous. You wrote above ". How many of us today are actually doing anything to make right the many wrongs that are happening on a daily basis? I would like to say we all try in our own ways, but do we really try? " the answer is YES, in our own way. In the best capacity we can. We are already wearing so many hats, mother, daughter, sister, wife. So what if we cannot fit social activist in there, for now. There is not reason to ever feel down on ourselves for not going out to the latest rally, or Quran class. Let's not be too hard on ourselves, and of course, let's not be too easy either. Alhamdulilah for those of us who have the support of family and friends, let's try to give more of ourselves to the community.

    Thanks for the blog Chris. Keep it coming.