Outrage. Disgust. Shame. These are all words that tumble forth when I think about the cruel treatment of blacks back in the early 1960s. But then I get to thinking….what would I have been like back then? Would I have kept company with people like Elizabeth Leefolt, a narcissistic society lady who treated blacks like disease-ridden vermin? I shudder to think that I would have been a member of Hilly Holbrook’s mean girl club (aka the Junior League), which focused on inventing new ways of exploiting and demeaning their black maids.
I’d like to think that I would have been like Skeeter, a crusading writer who risked everything to make a change. Like most women her age, she was conditioned to believe that black people were content to do nothing more than iron pleats, raise other people’s babies and polish silver. It wasn’t until her beloved black housemaid mysteriously left town “to be with her people,” when Skeeter began to realize that something very wrong was going on in Jackson, Mississippi.
Fresh out of college, Skeeter had big dreams of becoming a writer. But with no work experience, the only writing gig she could get was for a mundane housekeeping column. Desperate to make her mark in the publishing world, she decided to embark on a forbidden literary venture: A tell-all book filled with interviews from black maids. But little did she know, the maids weren’t all too gungho on exposing their stories for public scrutiny. As her friend’s maid, Aibileen, put it, “I might as well burn my own house down.”
After gaining the trust of Aibileen, one of the oldest and most respected maids in Jackson’s black community, Skeeter slowly builds credibility with the other maids. And as they put themselves at risk by breaking their decades of silence, Skeeter realizes she may of bitten off more than she could chew.
Narrated by Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny –a feisty black maid with a propensity for talking back to her bosses – Stockett effortlessly weaves together three compelling storylines. Unlike any other book I’ve ever read, the energy in the prose on each page had me completely enthralled. My heart lurched for Aibileen, who spent her life raising other people’s babies, constantly dreading the day when they would stop seeing her through untainted, colorblind eyes. I was especially touched by the unconditional love she gave to Mae Mobley, a percoscious toddler in desperate need of love an encouragement from her mother.
I was also captivated by the unlikely friendship between Minny and her boss Celia, a lonely town outcast who curiously yearns for her maid’s friendship. After being treated like a second-class citizen all her life, Minny doesn’t know what to think of this crazy blond woman who greets her every morning with a warm hug and a smile. Unwilling to let down her guard, Minny refuses to feel anything for her boss. But her reslolve fades away when she realizes Celia’s kindhearted nature might just be the real deal.
Filled with wonderfully complex characters and an eye-opening story, this is one powerful book that will sit with me for a very long time. Stockett did an amazing job transporting her readers back to a time and place when black women raised and nurtured white babies, but were deemed too vile to use the same bathroom as their employers.
Who out there has seen the movie? How does it compare to the book?