Question 2 – Describe at least ONE idea that was worth learning about in the text(s).
Explain why the idea was worth learning about in the text(s) as a whole.
Living in a society that is relatively free of major social and racial issues, we never think about the challenges that many people face. In the novel The Help written by Katherine Stockett, an important idea that is worth learning about is the importance of overcoming challenges. The novel tells the story about African American maids working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi, during the early 1960s.Many people face little insignificant challenge in their lives but for people such as Aibeleen, their lives are dictated by challenge. Stockett uses character, setting and symbolism to help us understand the challenges of racism, society, and the home to illustrate the importance of overcoming challenge.
In the novel, one idea relating to overcoming challenges is overcoming of the challenge of racism, and Stockett shows this through setting. As The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi – the worst place in America at the time for racism – in the 1960’s which was a turbulent time for the coloured community as the Civil Rights Movement had began, this setting gives us insight into what life was like for coloured people: the Jim Crow laws had been enacted which legally allowed segregation and discrimination, United States President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Due to this setting, it is apparent that the maids in the novel, such as Aibeleen, Minny and Constantine would struggle and have a lot of hardship due to the laws and the behaviour towards them from society. Stockett also illustrates this with characters – Aibeleen, Hilly and Constantine. Aibileen is a wise and weathered black maid who has raised seven white children. She works for Elizabeth Leefolt and loves toddler Mae Mobley as her own child— even though she knows that the loving relationship could hurt them both as Mae Mobely will grow up and show the racist characteristics that her mother posseses.
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She states that “I want to yell so loud that Baby Girl can hear me that dirty ain’t a colour, disease ain’t the negro side of town. I want to stop that moment from coming – and it come in every white child’s life – when they start to think that coloured folks are not as good as whites.” She aids the overcoming of racism for her and her community by writing a book with Skeeter and the other maids, empowering her to stand up for injustices. She teaches the children she raises that the colour of skin does not matter, love and kindness do; but she often feels that the message is countered by the racism in Jackson. We see the challenge of race and segregation from the point of view of Aibileen in the construction of a separate toilet for her as Elizabeth, under the influence of Hilly, agrees to build a separate toilet for the domestic help as it “increases the value of the property”. Hilly states that it would be “A bill that requires every white home to have a separate bathroom for the coloured help. I’ve even notified the surgeon general of Mississippi to see if he’ll endorse the idea.” This is related to racial segregation as the prevailing false belief among most white people here is that black people carry diseases. This false claim is used to justify segregated bathrooms, which becomes a huge issue in the novel.
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Another section of the main theme is overcoming the challenges faced that are posed by society. In the novel, we see very frequently the problems that societies create: not accepting others for reasons such as status, skin colour or beliefs. Stockett again uses character to portray this aspect of overcoming challenges. We see this from the character of Skeeter: her mother did not want her to go to College to gain a good education, but to use it as an opportunity to find a husband. Social expectations of women in the upper class, was that they had to be married and have children before the age of twenty. When Skeeter had come home without a husband, her mother looked down on her and was very disappointed and told her that her degree was useless unless it helped her find a partner. We see the social challenges also reciprocated in the Junior League. The majority of women who are a part of the league are wealthy and upper class, however we see through the character of Elizabeth that she is not as wealthy as the others so becomes incredibly superficial and tried very hard to fit in. Aibeleen observes the behaviour of Elizabeth and says that “They ain’t rich folks. Rich folks don’t try so hard”. This in turn affects her personal life as she pays so much attention to her clothes that she has no time to pay attention to Mae Mobley and look after and care for her. Another character that experiences the challenge of society is Celia. She was raised in Sugar Ditch which was the poorest area in America in the 1960’s. Furthermore, she was not born into a wealthy family thus was not accepted by the Junior League.
Finally, the last aspect of the main idea of overcoming challenges is the challenges faced in the home. Stockett shows us this aspect mainly through Elizabeth regarding her parenting of Mae Mobley. The Help gives us an insight into the private lives of the citizens of 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. The novel shows how the dysfunctional social setting created by segregation and racism influences the home lives of the characters. This society creates certain rules for men and certain rules for women. White women, like Elizabeth and Hilly, are not expected to work whilst 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 such as the Junior League and supervising “the help.” For example, when we first meet Elizabeth, we learn that she is consumed with making her home look nicer than it is. She seems to have little interest in being a mother and is annoyed by her own daughter, Mae Mobley. Aibelleen recognises this and states that: “You see her in the Jitney 14 grocery, you never think she go leave her baby crying in her crib like that. But the help always know.” We gain insight into the lives of the white characters from the maids. Elizabeth cares about appearances and will do anything to protect her reputation, but at the same time does not care for Mae Mobley as well as she should.
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In the novel The Help written by Katherine Stockett, the importance of overcoming challenges in the areas of racism, society and the home are central ideas that I believe are worth learning about as although they are not as apparent today, can still teach us important lessons of how societies function and to always have belief that challenges can be overcome. Stockett illustrates these challenges by using techniques of character and this helps us develop a clearer understanding of the issues that they face and how they overcame them.
Ultimately this book warns us of how much of an impact our surroundings have on the challenges that we could face and teaches us the importance of overcoming them to create a better future.