The Help Narrator:
Third Person (Omniscient)
The Help features three first-person narrators: Aibileen Clark (eleven chapters), Minny Jackson (nine chapters), and Skeeter Phelan (thirteen chapters). Author Kathryn Stockett says,
I started writing it the day after Sept. 11. I was living in New York City. We didn't have any phone service and we didn't have any mail. Like a lot of writers do, I started to write in a voice that I missed. I was really homesick – I couldn't even call my family and tell them I was fine. So I started writing in the voice of Demetrie, the maid I had growing up. (source).
This voice became the voice of Aibileen. Some of the things Aibileen tells Mae Mobley Leefolt to boost her self-esteem are things Demetrie (who died when Stockett was sixteen) told Stockett. The voice of Minny is inspired by actress Octavia Spencer (perhaps most famous for her role in Ugly Betty) and who plays Minny in the film version. The Telegraph reports,
Her heart sank when Stockett gave her the manuscript to read, worried that she might appear as a character like Mammy from Gone With the Wind. "And then I read it and I couldn't stop reading it. It was brilliant." (source)
As we discuss in "Characters," Skeeter has parallels with Stockett herself. She seems to be the last of the narrators to come to life. Motoko Rich of the New York Times reports,
She added Skeeter, she said, because she worried that readers wouldn't trust her if she only wrote about black characters. "I just didn't think that would ever be allowed to sit on the shelf," she said. "So I threw Skeeter in the mix and I felt a little better about it, because I was showing a white perspective as well." (source)
Chapter 25, "The Benefit" (the only chapter with a title) is the only chapter told in the third person. This third-person perspective is necessary for that chapter. It is most concerned with Celia Foote – how others react to her extreme sexiness and her extreme nervousness. We would have loved to get a glimpse inside Celia's head, but Celia wouldn't have been able to capture all the nuances the third-person narrator captures, since Celia herself isn't aware of much of what's going on in the scene. Plus, Celia wouldn't have been able to reveal that it's Hilly's mother who punks Hilly with Minny's auctioned chocolate pie.