In 1997, I travelled with my family to South Africa. I was fourteen and looking forward to finally meeting my cousins. It was a holiday and a reunion, since they had moved over there in the 1960’s.
Apartheid had ended three years prior to our visit and still I noticed differences in how my white South African family lived and viewed black South Africans. I remember my cousins employing a maid called Patricia, who lived in a small house out the back of the kitchen. The longer we stayed; it became clear that my South African family and my nuclear family were different in how we interacted with Patricia. As much as I love my SA family and they love me, when issues of race and equality were in the room, it was a collision of worlds. A jolt of the old and the new and I would often feel like an outlandish wanderer. Proceeding years have shown that these barriers are slowly breaking down but is seems a long time ago since apartheid.
Kathryn Stockett’s book is a beautifully written story of a similar collision, of the racial tension in the 1960’s American south. Stockett balances challenge with comedy and tears with liberation. As the author grew up in the southern state, she writes from first hand knowledge of the history, food, weather and the language. In fact she writes in the southern dialect, which I found a tricky style to get into. However, once beyond the first chapter my mind started flowing with the words, like I’d lived in Mississippi.
The interweaving themes Stockett produces through her book are bountiful and I wonder how many are commonly picked up, other than the one of race? I had to step back and breathe it all in, as issues of image, trust, courage, prejudice, discrimination, woman’s rights, irony, sacrifice, suffering, persistence, courage, faith, bullying, class, parenting and relationships flooded the pages. I am sure that there are many more than this. It will no doubt be a story that is used again and again in youth groups, churches and teaching settings, in order to place these subjects to their audiences.
I always rate a novel by the authenticity of the characters. Stockett made them really live off the pages. The character, Skeeter, was the one whose story stood out to me. Skeeter will always live for me as a character that pushed through with her dream. This was not without opposition and other people’s dubiousness. This encourages me to pray that my security of identity comes through who I am in God. I think identity is a challenge to many women and I feel that Satan hate’s a woman who knows who she is in God. That’s who I want to be.
The Help is also on at cinemas, from 26th October. It is excellent film and true to the novel. However, I urge you if you haven’t already, read the book first. The journey of the women is portrayed much better. Enjoy!
Lizzie Telfer is a volunteer youth worker, writer and consultant.