The Help: Helping or Hurting

During my summer prior to coming to Texas A&M, I spent most of my time making trips to the local library in hopes of finding more and more books to read. One book in particular was on my list due to the major hype it was receiving from my friends and of course, BookTubers on YouTube. The Help gained major popularity among readers for its “authentic” portrayal of the life of domestics. Though I was unable to get my hands on a copy of the novel, I was given the chance to attend an event hosted by the Multicultural Services on campus. On January 30, 2012, Dr. Kimberly Nichele Brown from the English Department at Texas A&M presented a different point of view from that of the readers public I was accustomed to hearing. She challenged the book’s authenticity by pointing out the fact that the author of the book, Kathryn Stockett, based the book on her perception of the 1960s, and not the real events that occurred. Because Stockett didn’t experience the events she wrote about, can we really read The Help as a crash course in American History in place of textbooks or attempt to get a glimpse of the events that happened in the 60s as many of the audience members included in their reasons for reading the book or watching the movie?  The book was accused of being watered down to make for a better storyline. As Dr. Brown stated, no one likes reading books or watching movies about people dying; and therefore, I assume that Stockett felt it necessary to make the events that transpired less austere. This watering down and lack of experiencing the events harmed her authenticity in Dr. Brown’s eyes. As part of a public that has yet to read The Help, I felt it was somewhat harsh to accuse Kathryn Stockett of being unauthentic when Dr. Brown stated that we, as Southerners, had greater access to primary sources such as our grandparents or parents who lived through the 60s than the Northerners. Thus, we could not use the excuse that we didn’t have any legitimate sources of getting information aside from relaying on Hollywood. If we had access to people who experienced these events, should we not give the benefit of the doubt to Stockett and assume she too had access to these resources that we have and write from those resources, a book of historical fiction? This watered down version of slavery helped shine light on a subject that is rarely talked about in high school English classes. If this was the main objective of Stockett’s novel, I feel she accomplished her task. Through this novel, she was able to start race relation talks among the American population and get younger generations to actively seek out knowledge about our past. Not only this, but this novel also teaches us to read critically and to not take works of fiction as nonfiction. It teaches us to challenge everything we get from “historical fictions” by doing research and expanding our array of knowledge in history. With this new understanding of the novel, I plan on reading the book with my critical thinking goggles on, but with an open-mind to consider from where the author is coming from as well as Dr. Brown.

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