by Kathryn Stockett
The Help Theme of Literature and Writing
The Help looks at the importance of literature – books, newspaper articles, laws, and bills – in creating, challenging, and changing the racist systems that ruled Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s. It also looks at oral and written storytelling (and even written prayers, in the case of Aibileen) as ways to build positive energy and self-esteem while creating a more just society through increased transparency. Narrators Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny collaborate on a book called Help that publically reveals the points of view of the black maids working for white families in Jackson. Though this work puts the women in grave danger, they ultimately feel it's worth it to give voice to their experiences, to tell the truth – the good and bad parts of it.
Questions About Literature and Writing
- Why does Skeeter assume Aibileen won't be a good writer? Does she change her mind over the course of the novel?
- Why does Aibileen tell Skeeter that she writes down her prayers, while she keeps this fact a secret from the rest of the community?
- Members of her community consider Aibileen's prayers particularly effective. Does this have anything to do with the fact that she writes them down?
- What roles do the written laws play in the construction of the society featured in The Help?
- Elaine Stein, the New York literary agent, tells Skeeter, "Don't waste your time on obvious things. Write about what disturbs you; particularly if it seems to bother no one else" (6.8). If you were going to follow Stein's advice, what would you write about?