Expanding on Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help”

Earlier today, I mentioned that when considering the idea of ‘authenticity’ – I immediately thought of the controversy regarding Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. I read this novel last year and thought that Stockett did a nice job in re-creating an ‘authentic’ African American dialect (despite the fact that she, herself, is white); however, after our discussion in class this morning – I reconsidered the idea of authentic.

I’m not saying that Stockett didn’t present the material in a way that was understandable and true to the time period, but, I liked what Professor Jani had to say – “You have to ask the right kind of questions: What defines accuracy? How does the representation work and what does it ultimately aim to do?”

If we were to apply this thought process when considering Stockett’s The Help, I think it’d be safe to say that she gave an adequate representation. I found a statement from Stockett when asked about the culture of this time:

“Well, I can only talk about my experience. I grew up in the 1970s, but I don’t think a whole lot had changed from the ’60s. Oh, it had changed in the law books — but not in the kitchens of white homes. As children, we looked up to our maids and our nannies, who were playing in some ways the role of our mothers. They were paid to be nice to us, to look after us, teach us things and take time out of their day to be with us. As a child you think of these people as an extension of your mother.

For the adults employing them, the relationship is different. You hire someone to clean your house and do your laundry. But in many cases, these women worked for the same white family for generation after generation. That, to me, is the difference between an employee and someone you feel close to. They’re an important cog in the wheel of your family. Some readers tell me, “We always treated our maid like she was a member of the family.” You know, that’s interesting, but I wonder what your maid’s perspective was on that. You look at all these rules in place in the ’60s — the separate bathroom, the separate plate and cup. That’s not how you treat a member of the family. And that conundrum is what got me started on the real plot of the story.”


Feel free to agree or disagree.

A few links regarding this topic…



One thought on “Expanding on Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help”

  1. I have been plagued by the idea of authenticity since the day we talked about this. It’s really interesting to dive into and think about what you personally consider authentic and what the rest of the world would consider authentic. I would agree with what I do know about the Help that it seems to be authentic, or at least more so than other works. It really is interesting all the backlash the book and now movie are getting for not being authentic enough and simultaneously how well it’s doing at the box office.


    So, the authenticity is called into question but the audiences love it, just about how it happened with the book. I just think it’s interesting in what we struggle with, what is authentic and what we readily accept.
    I mean, Jane Austen, to our current knowledge of her life which is very limited, didn’t have an amazing love and/or man of her dreams pursuing her only to be happily married. Yet we look to Austen to see how it’s done in terms of classic romance. But the most interesting thing I have thought about what we don’t argue with in terms of authenticity is movies. Now, aside from the Help which carries the novel’s controversies with it, a movie is generally accepted to some degree. There can be all these rich A-list actors and actress portraying a wide range of human experiences but the authenticity of their character’s portrayal seems to not be an issue. For some reason the Hurt Locker comes to mind. Those actors were never in that war, to my knowledge. While they may have gone through some type of boot camp they do not live that way yet the film is a success and eventually wins best Picture. Many said it portrayed the war in Iraq with accuracy. The people involved with the film were not in Iraq nor had they been in the war as portrayed in the film. Or even think of the Blind Side as another example. Maybe it has something to do with going into the film we know it is only a portrayal by someone who didn’t experience it personally. I don’t know but it is interesting to notice we tend to be more accepting of films with obvious representations made by people who didn’t have those experiences personally but when we are given the Help or Untouchable with the author not having those personal experiences, some see it as a loss of authority. Maybe if they made Untouchable into a film, it would be more accepted and the message of the creative piece would come across without the question of authority weighing it down.

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