by Kathryn Stockett
The Help Theme of Race
Race is not a neutral concept in The Help – 1960s Jackson, Mississippi is one heck of a segregated society. Still firmly stuck in the Jim Crow era, there are strict rules, laws, and norms restricting the lives of the black townspeople. These rules also restrict white people who want to cross the color line.
Kathryn Stockett's novel unflinchingly explores the worst of the false stereotypes about black people – that they are lazy, dirty, carry diseases, and are in general less intelligent and less valuable than whites. She shows how these fictions are woven into the fabric of everyday life in Jackson, from the laws to ordinary conversations, and how these beliefs get passed from generation to generation. It shows a deep mistrust of whites on the part of the black community, who have been betrayed by them again and again. It also shows how powerful and how dangerous it can be to challenge the stereotypes and dissolve the lines that are meant to separate people from each other on the basis of skin color.
Questions About Race
- Why is Lulabelle, who looks white, but comes from a black family, ostracized by both the black and white communities? What impact does Lulabelle's appearance have on her identity? Why is Charlotte so offended that Lulabelle pretends to be white by going to a DAR meeting?
- Are the racial stereotypes shown in the novel dead and gone, or do they live on? Can you give any present-day examples of such stereotypes?
- How are Minny and Aibileen's views on white people different? How are they the same?
- How is the legal system used to harm black characters in the novel?
- Why are the white characters in the novel able to harm black people physically without punishment?
- How does Skeeter's father feel about black people? How might this have influenced her views on race?
- How does Skeeter's mother feel about black people?
- Why does Mae Mobley color herself black in a drawing at school?
- By the end of the novel, has any progress been made in Jackson toward dissolving racial stereotypes?