The Help – Kathryn Stockett vs. Beloved – Toni Morrison (Spoiler Free)

So, I’ve recently read both of these books. One (The Help) voluntarily and the other (Beloved) as a part of my university course. I started off reading Beloved and to be honest, not quite liking it. Trying to find an exact reason why I pondered if it could be because the novel is a historical piece, and I frankly, have little to no experience reading historical fiction. In order to prove or disprove this theory I began reading The Help. Having now finished both novels, I couldn’t help but compare the two novels and thought… why not write about it?

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So, I’ve recently read both of these books. One (The Help) voluntarily and the other (Beloved) as a part of my university course. I started off reading Beloved and to be honest, not quite liking it. Trying to find an exact reason why I pondered if it could be because the novel is a historical piece, and I frankly, have little to no experience reading historical fiction. In order to prove or disprove this theory I began reading The Help. Having now finished both novels, I couldn’t help but compare the two novels and thought… why not write about it? So, here it goes..

BELOVED:

So Beloved if you didn’t know is an Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize winning novel written by Toni Morrison. It is based off a real story about a woman who was an escaped slave. For some historical context, this was in a time where in America being one either side of a river (Whose name i unfortunately don’t know) dictated whether or not you were considered free if you were of African descent. However, this freedom was at a constant risk as if you were “owned” by someone across the river they could come and “retrieve there property” essentially dragging you back. For this woman she was living in America essentially free from her “master’s” ensalvement, with her family; until one day she saw her “master” coming up the drive. Reacting quickly she herded her whole family into the shed and killed them all. She was in the process of killing herself and her infant child when she was captured and jailed. A horrific story which to this day astounds me. This true story spoke to Morrison and is what she based her novel off of. The fictional piece follows he life of Sethe and her daughter Denver. Seth is a woman who was a slave on a plantation who was abused, beaten and raped and who despite being injured and about 9 months pregnant trekked across state lines to ensure her baby’s and her family’s future. We are introduced to Sethe when she is living with her youngest daughter (now 18) Denver in a place called simply “124”. This home of of their happens to be haunted by the ghost of the baby whom Sethe killed. Her two other sons had left her already having had enough of the Ghost’s presence and her Mother-in-law Baby Suggs had just passed away. Denver and Sethe live a seemingly quite life, except their house is plagued by secrets, insecurities, and obviously a ghost that doesn’t know when to blood quit.

Admittedly it starts off as a really hard read. You’re picked up and thrown into the story, like Alice falling in to Wonderland. Only unlike Alice instead of saying “oh dear!” i personally was utterly a little more rude expletives. It’s a confusing ride at first, with incomplete stories and a language that while seemingly English is harder to understand, and there is absolutely no context at all. Somehow i feel like that’s the point of everything. To make the reader completely and utterly confused. However, after… quite a long while into the book. Some more context is unveiled and somehow, though I’m not sure how exactly you fall into the “rhythm” of the language of the book and all the things that completely sent you for a loop starts to make sense. Just in time for the climax of the book to leave you utterly confused, elated and sad. It’s not the world’s happiest book. Actually, there is nothing all that happy about it. Still, it’s a good read. Something I would suggest picking up if you want the unbridled and haunting truth of the Slave Trade in America. Just make sure you’re watching a lot of romantic comedies while reading this book, because it made me yearn for a really big hug and an even bigger carton of ice-cream.

THE HELP:

The Help on the other hand is almost the complete opposite of Beloved. The Help for one thing occurs in a later time period than Beloved. It is set in a time when slavery is abolished, and those of African descent are paid for work, although they are still treated as less than human and paid little to nothing, there is also a worrying amount of segregation and racism that makes me very sad. However, unlike Beloved this story while told seriously also has some light hearted elements which make it a much less depressing story. It is also a story that is easy to follow and while it does contain slang, it is slang that I didn’t find difficult to understand. It truly was a fun read and i really enjoyed the story it told and the clever way it was told in. The movie that was based off this book was also extremely good and was fantastically acted and beautifully told. Definitely highly recommended by yours truly.

The story follows three main characters. Skeeter Phelan, Minny and Aibileen all of whom live in Jackson Mississippi . Aibileen and Minny are maids who have been in the business of looking after white-people’s babies and houses since around the time they were fourteen and are long time friends. Minny is a short tempered and sassy maid whose sharp wit and tongue often get her in trouble with her employers and Aibileen is a calm and sad woman who has spent her years raising and loosing other people’s children and after having lost her own son to a tragic accident has just about given up on life. Eugena “Skeeter” Phelan is a white 22-year-old woman who never quite fits in with the crowd in Mississippi as instead of going to college to find a husband like most of the women her age, she actually went to college to get an education. A revelation I know. This decision is constantly looked down upon by just about everybody in her life, including her mother. It is because of her outsider tendencies and her college educated mind that she sees the world in a way that is unique of that time. That is, she doesn’t look down upon “the help” like everybody else does.

Together these three find an unlikely and heartwarming friendship and band together to write a book about how the world really works. By doing so they risk everything, Aibileen and Minny more than most; as while it is not predominant in the book, the violence that African American suffer is touched on and alluded to as a possible consequence. This book does not solely place the victim role upon “the help” as the book also goes into how people who are of the same race but not considered the same class are also treated. altogether the book splendidly highlights people’s ability to be cruel for cruelty’s sake. But, it does not solely focus on the negative like Beloved, instead Stockett choose to include some redeeming themes such as: discovering friendship and strength in difficult times, the kindness of others and sometime Kindness found in unusual places. Stocked even touches on domestic abuse and finding the self-empowerment to put and end to it, as well as definitions of community and how they can make or break a person.

I would seriously recommend this book to anyone who asks. It is a fantastic and beautiful read. Both of these books are.

 

Til next time,

L.K.