Book Review - The Help by Kathryn Stockett
In the book The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, the author uses most of the methods of characterization. These methods are important for the development and introduction of each character. They give the readers a good sense of the character’s personalities and make them seem more alive. They help depict a more visual aspect to the book. The character I chose to look into was Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan. Skeeter is a character that goes through a big development. She was able to give others a voice that they did not think they had and was able to get people to question their own mindsets. Along with that, she is one of the three narrators in The Help .
The first method I chose to look for that was used by the author is the physical description. Skeeter is first introduced on page four when she goes to Elizabeth Leefolt’s house for bridge club day. She is described by Abilene when she says, “Miss Skeeter real tall and skinny. Her hair be yellow and cut short above her shoulders cause she get frizz year round. She twenty-three or so, same as Miss Leefolt and the rest of em.” (Stockett, 4,5). Skeeter didn’t fit into the beauty standards of the time unlike the other women in her town. “By sixteen I wasn't just not pretty, I was painfully tall” (27).
This first chapter is narrated by Abilene who is Elizabeth’s maid. She opens the door and is greeted by Skeeter and then narrates, “She the kind that speak to the help.” (4) This action shows how whites only acknowledge their help to a certain extent. When Abilene describes her she also states that “Miss Skeeter always look like somebody else told her what to wear” (5). She was constantly not confident within herself due to her mother's criticism and the continuous reminder of her friends getting married and starting families.
Another characterization method is explaining how she feels. In the beginning,having had recently returned from college, she had arrived with different perspectives than the ones she had left with. In her own words she said, “I've been dropped off in a place I do not belong anymore.”(66) She is often pressured to be more ladylike and to get married although she’d rather make a career of herself instead of being a housewife. When she returns, she feels more like an outcast as if she were too different to fit in. Her mother was hoping she’d return with husband but was disappointed that she came back with “A pretty piece of paper”(64) instead. Skeeter and her mother aspire two different things. Although her mom just wanted the best for Skeeter and wanted her to be happy, Skeeter and her had two different ideas of what happiness was. “I’ll never be able to tell Mother I want to be a writer. She’ll only turn it into yet another thing that separates me from the married girls.”(65). Since Skeeter was afraid to talk to her mom and didn’t feel completely comfortable when it came to their contrasting views on her future, is another reason that she wasn’t very confident in herself and was self-doubting.
One of the people who had the greatest impact on Skeeter and helped shape the values she has was her childhood maid, Constantine. “All my life ive been told what to believe about politics, coloreds, being a girl. But with Constantine’s thumb pressed in my hand, I realized I actually had a choice in what I could believe.”(74) Constantine gave her the courage to stand up for all of the things in her society that she didn’t see as fair and to actually do something about it. This was done with the writing of the book about the black maids of Jackson. Others could argue that simply by writing a book and especially since it was anonymous that it wouldn't count as standing up, but I think taking into account the circumstances including how dangerous it was and the time period, that they at least tried to voice out and make their words mean something. Although what she did could be seen as subtle, she inspired many of the maids to share their stories and to use their own voices to be heard. She was one of the few white women who treated black people equal and did not see herself as superior to them.
A character who, unlike Skeeter, was prejudice against black people and enforced segregation, was Skeeter’s best friend-turned-enemy, Hilly. They had been best friends since grade school. The main conflict between them is a difference in opinion. Hilly often dehumanizes black maids while Skeeter believes in treating everyone equal. When Hilly brings up the Home Help Sanitation Initiative which is a “disease-preventive measure’(10), Skeeter feels taken back and thinks of how unnecessary it is. “I'm surprised by how tight my throat get. It's a shame I learned to keep down a long time ago”(10). This demonstrates how wrong she thinks the idea is and mentions that she used to let Hilly get by with anything. “Miss Skeeter, she frowning at Miss Hilly. She set her cards down faceup and say real matter-a-fact, “Maybe we ought to just build you a bathroom outside, Hilly.” And Law, do that room get quiet.”(10). This shows the first time Skeeter gave her opinion to Hilly and hence the room growing quiet, it shows how none of the other women had ever dared to go against Hilly.