Good Reads: Telling Our Stories

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

We all have a story. But we are not all free to tell our story, for different reasons. “The Help” focuses on a group of women who were forced to hide their thoughts, their aspirations, their stories. Set in Jackson, Mississippi during the 1960s, the book focuses on the wide divide between blacks and whites. The lives of white society ladies and their maids are presented in stark contrast. While the privileged group vociferously speaks up about everything from recipes to the conviction that blacks should have their own bathrooms, the black maids don’t dare to speak their minds for fear of losing their jobs.

Young (white) college graduate Skeeter aspires to write. She comes up with the idea of writing these maids’ stories. In a book. Published for the world to read. Right away she’s stymied by the unwillingness of these women to talk to her. Skeeter gradually realizes how frightened they are. How powerless they are. Only Minny and Abileen open up about their lives. When one more glaring injustice puts one of their own in the penitentiary, the black women gather at Abileen’s house to support each other. Skeeter is there, too. She reports:

Then “people begin to stir, telling each other good night with solemn nods. Handbags are picked up, hats are put on heads. A woman with curly gray hair and a black coat stops in front of me where I’m standing with my satchel. ‘Miss Skeeter,’ she says, without a smile, ‘I’m on help you with the stories.’ I turn and look at Abileen. ‘I’m on help you, Miss Skeeter.’ This is another woman, tall and lean, with the same quiet look as the first. ‘Um, thank . . . you,’ I say. ‘I am too, Miss Skeeter. I’m on help you.’ A woman in a red coat walks by quickly, doesn’t even meet my eyes. After the next one, I start counting. Five, Six. Seven. I nod back at them, can say nothing but thank you. Thank you. Yes, thank you, to each one. Eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven. No one is smiling when they tell me they want to help.”

These women risk their livelihoods to tell about themselves. Most of us live without such outward restraints, but it still may be hard to crack open the shell and share who we are. Inward restraints can be just as powerful as the observable ones.

We all have a story. Do you find it sometimes hard to tell parts of yours? When have you felt most comfortable sharing your story? What’s hindered or helped you do so? Leave a comment below!

The movie of The Help opens this weekend. See the movie, read the book; don’t stories make life rich?!

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