The Help

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The Help Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Kathryn Stockett's The Help. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Kathryn Stockett
As a young girl living in Jackson, Mississippi, Kathryn Stockett loved spending time with her family’s maid Demetrie, an African-American woman who worked for her family since 1955. Demetrie would play games with Stockett, tell her stories, and shower her with affection. But the young Stockett also witnessed the discrimination that Demetrie faced working for a white family. Stockett’s family forced Demetrie to use a separate bathroom and to sit by herself while eating lunch. After graduating from the University of Alabama with a degree in English and creative writing, Stockett moved to New York City where she turned these complicated experiences with Demetrie into her first novel, The Help. Rejected by over fifty publishers, the book, once published, sold over ten million copies and spent more than a hundred weeks on the The New York Times Best Seller list. She currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
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Historical Context of The Help
Set in Jackson, Mississippi during the early days of the 1960s civil rights movement, The Help portrays social life under the Jim Crow-era laws that enforced racial segregation. White and black people had separate hospitals, bathrooms, schools, and even graveyards. Civil rights protestors sought to dissolve “the color line,” a metaphor for segregation, by integrating the facilities and institutions that were kept separate. However, the majority of white Southerners opposed these changes, with some people even resorting to violence to maintain segregation. In the early sixties, if a black man used a white bathroom, he could expect white men to burn down his house, beat him, or even lynch him. Stockett focuses on one particular low point in the civil rights movement: the violent murder of the black activist Medgar Evers by a pro-segregation white man. But the novel ends with the hope for progress. Near the end of the book, Stockett mentions the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
Other Books Related to The Help
Stockett makes frequent mention of classic works of Southern literature in The Help, which situates her novel in a literary tradition of examining the realities of racism in the South. In many ways, The Help responds to and refutes Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind and its representation of Mammy, an outspoken but matronly black slave and caregiver who faithfully and happily serves her white slave-masters. Unlike the politically-complacent Mammy character, the black maids in The Help fight to improve the conditions of life for domestic workers. Stockett also references Frederick Douglass’ famous narrative and reflects, in the character of Aibileen, Douglass’ belief in the power of writing and literature for liberating the bodies and minds of oppressed African-Americans. Finally, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man serves as a powerful catalyst in the novel to inspire black characters to resist oppression and tell their stories.
Key Facts about The Help
  • Full Title: The Help
  • When Written: 2004-2009
  • Where Written: New York City
  • When Published: 2009
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Historical fiction
  • Setting: Jackson, Mississippi; 1962 through 1964
  • Climax: The white community’s reaction to the publication of the book.
  • Antagonist: Miss Hilly Holbrook
  • Point of View: First-person from the perspectives of Aibileen, Minny, and Miss Skeeter, with the exception of chapter Twenty-Five which has a third-person omniscient point of view.
Extra Credit for The Help

Legal Trouble: Ablene Cooper, a maid who worked for Stockett's brother, sued Kathyrn Stockett, claiming she used her life story without her permission and based the character of Aibileen Clark on her likeness. Stockett denies the claim and says she only spoke to Cooper on a few occasions.

And the Oscar Goes to…: Made into the 2011 blockbuster hit, the film-adaptation of The Help was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Octavia Spenser, who played the character of Minny Jackson, won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.