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The Help

The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

Analysis: Writing Style

The richness and variety of language is part of what makes this book so appealing and intriguing. Kathryn Stockett, a white woman from Mississippi, takes a bold step. Two of her three narrators are black women who tell their stories in African American English or African American Vernacular. Contemporary linguists argue that these dialects of English are no more or less valid than "standard English" or any other dialect of English, and that they contain distinct features and operate under distinct grammatical systems.

Some critics take issue with Stockett's use of these dialects. Check out what Janet Maslin of the New York Times has to say:

Here is a debut novel by a Southern-born white author who renders black maids' voices in thick, dated dialect ("Law have mercy," one says, when asked to cooperate with the book project. "I reckon I'm on do it"). (source)

You might be wondering what Stockett has to say. Here are her thoughts on the matter:

I was scared, a lot of the time, that I was crossing a terrible line, writing in the voice of a black person. […] What I am sure about is this: I don't presume to think I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi in the 1960s. […] But trying to understand is vital to our humanity. (source)

These are just a few perspectives on the linguistic experiment Stockett attempts. They bring up lots of interesting questions about language and race – always hot-button, endlessly debatable issues. (Readers and scholars are still arguing about Mark Twain's use of dialect in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – over 100 years later!) The Help will give you a chance to figure out where you stand.

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