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In the movie, The Help, the lives of two African American maids, Aibileen Clark and Minnie Jackson begin to illegally tell their untold perspective of being a housemaid for white households to a young, passionate woman write Eugenia, better known as “Skeeter” Phelan. At the beginning of the film, Skeeter finally gets a newspaper job at the Jackson Journal at 23 years old but is condemned multiple times by her friends and mother to relentlessly look for a husband to marry, rather than try to an independent. Skeeter, then realizing the absence of her own African American maid that raised her, asks her parents about the situation as they refuse to open up about the truth.
Meanwhile, Minnie, notoriously known for her smart remarks and sass as a maid, ends up getting fired by a prosperous lady named Hilly Holbrook, referred to as Mrs. Hilly, who is currently working on initiatives to assist poor children in Mississippi. Minnie, desperate for a job to feed her seven kids, travels to a house owned by Celia Foote, a rare “Southern Bell” who struggles to know how to perform basic “stay-at-home wife” duties in order to please her husband. Despite Celia hiring Minnie without her husband’s permission, Celia admits to Minnie about being pregnant, after having an affair with Mrs. Hilly’s partner. Simultaneously, Aibileen grows a strong motherly relationship with Mae Mobley, the daughter of a white family she works for as he contemplates over the death of her own son before starting her maid career. Aibileen, being as obedient as possible, fears the risk of being fired or possibly being attacked due to racial tensions in Jackson during the time.
Eventually, Skeeter convinces the women to open up about the lives of the black women in the efforts of writing an anonymous book called The Help. Aibileen is the first to share her stories with Skeeter as she worries that it is the only way to take action toward black inequality. Scared to get arrested, as well Minnie reluctantly joins her stories and bring in about 20 maids to reveal their long kept feelings about the families they work for and their difficult obligations to stay loyal in order to keep a job.
Right before publishing the book, Skeeter sabotages Mrs. Hilly after lying to her about putting her initiative into the newspaper to prioritize recording more point of views for The Help. Unfortunately, Skeeter is eventually told that her old maid had died after being fired at state governor event for her mother hosted at their house. After months of hard work, the book is published as it circulates quickly across Jackson shocking many in its Caucasian female audience. The maids begin to receive money divided by Skeeter from the book sales. Many, still in denial, do not believe the story is true including Mrs. Hilly, who confronts Skeeter for explicitly mentioning her in the book. Mrs. Hilly plan to get the maids and Skeeter arrested fails.
To add on, Mrs. Celia opens up to Mrs. Hilly and her husband about the affair as it ended up being a miscarriage. But, Mrs. Hilly grows paranoid and finds ways to ruin the lives of those who contributed to the book. She first starts with Mrs. Mobley and gets the Aibileen fired after falsely accusing her of stealing silver utensils. Then, the movie end Aibileen leaves the house and walks out wondering about all her suffering as Mae cries desperately for the lady back and Mrs. Mobley in regret.
In this movie, the historical significance is mainly highlighted in presenting the alternative ways that many African Americans and Caucasians fought for civil rights from a local standpoint. The Southern refusal for integration, white superiority, economic hardships of African Americans who still lived in the South by the 1960s was thoroughly displayed in the film. The movie also does an incredible job by incorporating characters that align and don’t align with 1960s popular stereotypes.
To begin with, the Southern agrarian homes and sparse of consumerism like TV’s, restaurants, and segregated movie theatres were accurately portrayed in the movie. The movie vividly contrasted large houses and mansions for higher class families with the rudimentary, small homes for African Americans to display the widening economic gap between the two races. Moreover, the movie features engaging black congregations going to church that helped show that many African Americans continued with their culture as a coping mechanism for social injustice. More evidently, the stereotype of the suburban housewife is very prominent in the movie. For instance, Mrs. Hilly rudely remarks the announcement of Skeeter’s new job by stating, “To Skeeter and her job...last stop till marriage” (Taylor, 2011). After this remark, Skeeter’s mother tries to force her daughter to be more feminine and even says in fear, “I heard the other day that some young girls about having ‘unnatural thoughts.’ Are you finding me unattractive, having unnatural thoughts about girls or women?” (Taylor, 2011). Mrs. Phelan’s words prove the homophobia during the 1960s as well as portraying marriage as a necessity for women. Moreover, the movie extends the concepts of the Great Migration. For example, Aibileen expresses that her son was a graduate killed by white nativists by saying, “I saw him die on my sofa because there was nothing else to do. I can’t breathe when I go back thinking about my son’s anniversary of his death. But to you white folks, it’s just another day on the bridge”(Taylor 2011). This proves that the film brought justification to why many maids, including Aibileen, considered moving up North to avoid violent racism.
However, the movie does have a few inaccuracies of historical events as well. For instance, the movie does not exemplify the significance of Ku Klux Klan or lynchings during the time. For example, Aibileen is escorted off a bus after a murder happened in the neighborhood by the KKK. It can be critiqued that the KKK played a more important role in the movie than a mere reference. In addition, the movie underestimates the abuse of African Americans by using moments of paranoia and passive aggressiveness. Minne’s sass to Mrs. Hilly when she uses the Holbrook toilet represents a minor method of how African Americans rebelled against the judgment, but methods like peaceful protests and marches were more known during the Civil Rights Movement and were not adequately seen in this film.
Lastly, the film provides a feminine and stereotypical interpretation when using its characters and events. To begin with, Mrs. Hilly and Mrs. Mobley portray the ideal suburban housewife with large houses, a working husband, and submissive behavior. On the other hand, Mrs. Celia struggles to live up to wife standards of housecleaning and cooking as she abandons the conservative lifestyle with cheating affairs and sexually suggestive dressing. Aibileen plays the expectations of a maid in the South, to be loyal at all times. But, she also plays the saddening secrets of African American life that grows a phobia of moving away from her designated position in society after the death of her son. Alongside, Minnie plays a more unbothered side of African Americans who did anything, regardless of morality, to suggest equality, Skeeter plays against the concepts of suburbia and follows the guidelines of the Feminine Mystique by embracing single female life.
The Help has an extraordinary impact on its viewers by introducing multiple perspectives of women and minorities during the 1960s. Through the film, the audience will begin to grow more empathy and appreciation toward African American women for their consistent labor for white families that often go unnoticed by their bosses. Viewers feel affection toward the depressing lives of these women that they must put behind them in order to survive in the South. Moreover, the housewives in the South provides the viewer with the opportunity to perceive them as snobby and pessimistic against their maids. The film suggests to its viewers that suburban housewive living hinders the possibilities of women having economic and social independence. The movie also may confuse its audience between the caring and motherly actions of a maid, like Aibileen to Mae Mobley or the vengeful actions of a maid like Minnie against Mrs. Hilly. Most importantly, the viewer’s historical understanding is ensured in the idea that there were Southern whites that truly were passionate about the equality of all people, such as Skeeter.
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