This is an exhibition of the novel The Help. As I guide you through the gallery in the video, please take the time to pause on the images with the dark wood boarders. Below you will find the corresponding descriptions to these images with the following categories: symbolic times, actions, or objects to the character, an inquiry question and a connection to another book. I hope you enjoy!
Symbolic Object to Aibileen Clark:
Montclair Cigarettes: « Last time, she pulled out a pack of Montclair’s and smoked them right there with me in the room and that was kind of something, the casualness of it. » -Eugenia (Skeeter) Phelan
When one envisions Aibileen Clark, we see a caring, gentle, old soul. Her smoking is certainly not the first image that comes to mind. Therefore, why choose cigarettes to represent Aibileen? I chose not the object itself but the atmosphere these cigarettes portray. Aibileen states that one white woman has only ever entered her home: Eugenia Phelan. As these two develop an unlikely friendship through the process of writing a story, Aibileen over time, becomes more comfortable with her friend. Growing up as a wealthy white woman, Eugenia has only known the world where the coloured help clean up her messes and serve her twenty-four seven. The Montclair cigarettes that Aibileen smokes ever so casually stun Eugenia at first, then allow her to see what an amazing friendship they have built; one full of trust, understanding and equality.
Symbolic Object to Minny Jackson:
A Toilet: “…I decided there had to be a more dignified way to die than having a heart attack squatting on top of a white lady’s toilet lid.” -Minny Jackson
Minny Jackson never fails to preach her beliefs, certain beliefs no one can sway. This quote is one of many that describes Minny’s values and realization of self-worth. Take this scene for example, it is brought to Minny’s attention through the drastic measures taken to not be seen by Miss Celia’s husband, Johnny, that Minny does not want to die hopelessly perched on top of a white lady’s toilet seat. If Minny were to have a heart attack, wouldn’t she want to be die making a difference? Making the world a better place for her children? This toilet inspires Minny to live life as if she could be shot tomorrow. I imagine that as she stepped down from the toilet, a place where she was quiet which meant safe, elevated which meant disguised, she became nervous. Though, as Leena Ahmad Almashat once said “Those who don’t jump, will never fly.” Luckily for Minny, that jump (or step in this case) is one that led her and her family to a brighter future.
Why is it important to learn to see through another’s eyes?
This thought is one that was unimaginable to certain people sixty years ago; however, Eugenia (Skeeter) Phelan, believes otherwise. Her perspective on equality and her ability to love people for who they are on the inside proves that she is many years ahead of her time. “I am starting to notice things.” Skeeter states. The lack of respect shown to the help from her friends that she has grown up with is brought to her attention. Seeing life through Aibileen’s eyes was not an easy task to begin with. As to be expected, Aibileen (and later Minny) was closed off and sharing her stories with a white woman was not an everyday occurrence. Over time, a bond and ultimately a friendship formed. These powerful women were able to break down their walls and finally treat the other as an equal. Not only was it Skeeter who had to change the expectations of society but Aibileen as well. She was tasked with treating Skeeter as her friend and not a white lady to whom she served. This trait, being able to see through another’s eyes, is one that I strive to improve on. Whether we choose to believe it or not, everyone judges everyone. A first impression, a presentation, situations in which we are vulnerable allows others the opportunity to judge us for who we are and the message we are sharing at that time. Simply forming an opinion without the full story is how society worked sixty years ago, and perhaps how we still function today. I believe that The Help would not have been as powerful if the story was only written from one woman’s perspective. Skeeter demonstrates a fantastic example of taking the time to see through another’s eyes. This message is one individuals, groups and society as a whole will always need to improve upon.
A novel which has similar themes to The Help:
Society can sometimes have too narrow of a focus regarding our imperfections. We may not be able to change these imperfections, but perhaps we can change the way we respond to them. Both The Chrysalids and The Help touch on the idea of fitting into a mold. If you are not white you lived in the coloured neighborhood. If you are a Blasphemy (as referred to in The Chrysalids) you are banished to the fringes (a place where the “perfect” people can look down on you). Skeeter and David see the offence, the blasphemy or the coloured as equals. While society dehumanized the “different”, the protagonists allowed their minds to challenge the views put forth by society. David grew up in a house where his father did not bend the rules for anyone, including his family. When David meets a young girl named Sophie who has six toes, his family’s beliefs and traditions no longer seemed important to him. As did Skeeter, he continues to form a “forbidden friendship” with someone who is not perfect in society’s eyes. When Mae Mobley askes Aibileen why she is coloured, Aibileen simply responds with: “Cause God made me colored,” I say. “And there ain’t another reason in the world.” There is no reason that Sophie has an extra toe nor is there a reason why coloured people are coloured. It is for people like David and Skeeter that my generation is able to recognize differences as the best part of our society.
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” -Audre Lorde.
Sources for the images:
Eyes on the top
Eyes on the bottom
Watermelon and Pineapple
Minny Jackson with Mr. Johnny Foote
Minny Jackson in the washroom
Aibileen Clark, Minny Jackson and Eugenia (Skeeter) Phelan
Aibileen and Ms. Skeeter
The Help (White cover with red writing)