The Help gives us a chance to peek into the private lives of the citizens of 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. The novel shows how the dysfunctional social milieu created by segregation and racism influences the home lives of the characters. This society proscribes certain rules for men and certain rules for women. White women, like Elizabeth and Hilly, are expected to not work – neither in nor out of their homes. Black women are expected to work only in the homes of these women, caring for their children and cooking their meals. White women are simply tasked with being involved in social events and supervising "the help."
Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with cooking, cleaning, and caring for children for a living. The maids in the novel take pride in their work. But this work clearly isn't valued in this society. If the maids were being paid well, protected from abuse, treated with respect, and provided safe and comfortable work conditions, things would be different. If these women had access to jobs other than domestic work, things would be different too. The novel shows how complicated employee-employer relationships become, especially those between the black women and the white children they care for.
Questions About The Home
- How would you describe Aibileen's home life?
- What would life be like for Mae Mobley without Aibileen? What will it be like for her now that Aibileen has been fired?
- How do Minny's children help take care of the family while Minny is working? How successful is Minny at balancing her home and work lives?
- Why does Minny stay with Leroy for so long, even though he makes their home a place of violence and tension? What gives her the strength to finally change her mind?
- Why does Skeeter want so badly to leave home? How would you describe her home life? Do you think she will be homesick for Jackson once she's off in New York City?
- How does Celia Rae Foote's home life change over the course of the novel?