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The Help By Kathryn Stockett English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2982 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The novel The Help by Kathryn Stockett takes place in Jackson, Mississippi, during the 1960s. A period that saw the segregation of blacks and the superiority of whites dominate the southern United States. The novel focuses on the colored help and their work environment, greatly emphasizing the help’s relations with their white employers. The plot of the novel follows a colored maid and educated white women in their journey to make known the relations that the help build with their employers and their families, and to show the maltreatment that some colored maids receive. In addition, the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe takes place in various places, most of which are in the southern United States, during the mid 19th century. This abolitionist novel follows Uncle Tom in his journey, and of those he encounters along the way, after being sold to a slave trader. Harriet Beecher Stowe and her novel have had a profound impact on the history of the United States, as it is said that this novel contributed to starting the American Civil War.

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Despite the fact both of the novels were written at different time periods, they show many similarities and difference, some of which can be found within the characterization. Both these novels feature characters that act as a mother or a mother figure. But how does the portrayal of the mother role as shown in the novel The Help by Kathryn Stockett compare to that of the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe? Why? Stockett’s novel uses it characters to emphasize the stereotypical belief in this time period, that the white mother was a neglecting mother and that the colored help served as the loving caring mother figure. The stereotype is showcased in the Leefoolt household, where Elizabeth Leefolt service as the neglecting white mother and AIbileen Clark plays the role of the caring loving mother figure. Stockett also uses the Phelan household, where Charlotte Phelan plays the neglecting white mother, and Constantine, portrays the role of the loving, caring colored help. On the other hand, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel seems to portray all mothers as loving and caring, she does not show a contrast between white and colored mothers, as evident in the characterization of Emily Shelby, Eliza Harris, Mrs. Bird. Through the assessment of the novel it will be demonstrated how the novels differentiate in their characterizations in the portraying the mother role. It will also demonstrate why the roles were portrayed in such a manner.

The Help

The novel The Help by Kathryn Stockett portrayal of the mother role follows the stereotype of the white neglecting mother and the loving and caring colored mother figure. Stockett uses several households to exhibit the archetype, but she emphasizes it in the Leefolt and Phelan households. In the Leefolt household, she uses the characters of Elizabeth Leefolt to portray the neglecting white mother, and Aibileen Clark to portray the loving and caring colored mother figure. While, in the Phelan household the neglecting mother is played by Charlotte Phelan, and Constantine Bates portrays the loving, caring, colored help.

Initially, Stockett’s greatly emphasizes the modern stereotype within the Leefolt household. The character of Aibileen Clark, a colored maid, is shown as the loving and caring mother figure of Mae Mobley Leefolt. While Elizabeth Leefolt, Mae Mobley’s mother, is shown as the neglecting mother. Aibileen takes care of the child’s needs from morning to the time she clocks out. Early in the morning, Aibileen comes in to change Mae Mobley’s dirty diapers, which her neglecting mother has not changed since the previous night. “I go on to the back, so mad I’m stomping. Baby Girl been in that bed since eight o’clock last night, a course she need changing! Miss Leefolt try to sit in twelve hours worth a bathroom mess without getting up (Stockett 18)!” Aibileen is responsible for satisfying many needs for the child; she feeds, dresses, bathes, and satisfies a plethora of other needs for the child. While on the other hand, Elizabeth spends her time playing bridge with the Junior League, speaking on the phone with other members of the league, making a dress that would make her fit in, or visiting her dear friend, Hilly Holbrook. “Ever so often, I come to work and find her bawling in her crib, Miss Leefolt busy on the sewing machine rolling her eyes like it’s a stray cat stuck in the screen door. See, Miss Leefolt, she dress up nice ever day. Always got her makeup on, got a carport, double-door Frigidaire with the built-in icebox. You see her in the Jitney 14 grocery, you never think she go and leave her baby crying in her crib like that. But the help always knows (Stockett 5).” Aibileen goes the extra mile, that often times places her in dangerous situations, in order to meet the child’s needs. For example, when Mae Mobley was being toilet bowl trained, the child needed to see a demonstration in order to learn. But since Elizabeth refuse to allow the child to be in the bathroom at the same time she was, Aibileen decided to do something that was unheard of during a time period of segregation. Aibileen, a colored woman, demonstrated for the white childe how to properly use the toilet. But Elizabeth on the other hand, goes the extra mile to avoid her child. She often tells Aibileen to keep the child way when she is on the phone, or when she is working on a dress. “And you make sure Mae Mobley’s not coming in on us, now. I tell you, I am burned up at her – tore up my good stationary into five thousand pieces and I’ve got fifteen thank-you noted from the Junior League (Stockett 4)…” Elizabeth further shows her neglect as a mother, when she discovers Mae Mobley attempting to use the colored help’s bathroom. Elizabeth physically punishes the small child, ‘Miss Leefolt snatch her up, give her a pop on her leg (Stockett 111),”then sets her in front her in front of the television set, retreated to her room and left Aibileen to tend to the child. The relationship between Elizabeth Leefolt, Mae Mobley Leefolt, and Aibileen Clark is summed up when Mae Mobley says “Aibee, you’re my real mama (Stockett 336).” It basically says that Aibileen plays a bigger mother role in the child’s life, than her biological mother does.

In addition, Stockett also showcases the modern archetype within the Phelan household, where Charlotte Phelan plays the white neglecting mother, and Constantine Bates portrays the loving, colored mother figure. Constantine, like many other colored help, helped in the raising of the children; in this case the child was Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan. Charlotte Boudreau Contrelle Phelan does not completely neglect Skeeter, but neglects her emotional needs, which are tended to by Constantine. Charlotte overly concentrates on Skeeter’s physical looks and people’s perception of her daughter, which results in her neglect of Skeeter’s feelings. Skeeter’s stature is often Charlotte’s concentration. “The kind of tall where your mother spends her nights taking down hems, yanking at sweater sleeves, flattering your hair for dances you hadn’t been asked to, finally pressing the top of your head as if she could shrink you back to the years when she had to remind you to stand up straight (Stockett 67).” Constantine often tended to Skeeter’s emotional needs. She is seen consoling Skeeter after some school boys made fun of her unnatural height. Constantine also helps Skeeter get away with things her mother dislikes. Constantine’s love for Skeeter is strong enough to change Skeeter’s personal beliefs, taught to her by her mother and the rest of society. “She kept her thumb pressed hard in my hand. I nodded that I understood. I was just smart enough to realize she meant white people. And even though I still felt miserable, and knew that I was, most likely, ugly, it was the first time she ever talked to me like I was something besides my mother’s white child. All my life I’d been told what to believe about politics, coloreds, being a girl. But with Constantine’s thumb pressed in my hand, I realized I actually had a choice in what I could believe. (Stockett 73-74).” Even after Skeeter departs for college, Constantine keeps in contact whit herby constantly writing her letters. These constant letters often contain enjoyable conversations about the events in each other’s life. While on the other hand “mother’s letters said, say your prayers and don’t wear heels because they make you look tall (Stockett 79-80).” Constantine love and care meant a lot to Skeeter, as shown by her reaction when Constantine abruptly leaves. Skeeter searches for her, until she realizes that her protector is gone. “I had to accept that Constantine, my one true ally, had left me to fend for myself with these people.” “It was having someone look at you after your mother has nearly fretted herself to death because you are freakishly tall and frizzy and odd. Someone whose eyes simply said, without words, you are fine with me (Stockett 78).” This perfectly explains the relationships between the women in the Phelan household. Charlotte worries about Skeeter’s looks, while Skeeter seeks refuge in Constantine’s arm, who accepted her anyway she looked.

Furthermore, but why does Stockett follow this modern stereotype? Stockett’s novel was written in the 21st century, in 2009to be exact. But yet the novel’s content is based on events that occurred in the 1960s, which can skew the validity of the content. Also, the purpose of this feminist novel was “For women to realize, We are just two people. Not much separate us. Not nearly as much as I’d though (Stockett 530).” This is why she chooses to follow the stereotypical belief, to show that colored and white women are not much different from one another. Stockett further chose to showcase this belief because of her personal experience. Aibileen and Mae Mobley’s, and Skeeter and Constantine’s relationship parallel that of Stockett and her colored mother figure, Demetrie. Stockett had a good relationship with a colored maid named Demetrie, who often replaced her mother because of her frequent trips. She used Demetrie as an inspiration in creating some of the colored maid’s characters, especially Constantine and Aibileen. Stockett follows the stereotype, of the white neglecting mother and the loving colored mother figure, because of her desire for her novel to spread the idea that all mothers, whether white or colored, are not much different from one another. As well her want to showcase her relationship with her, loving and caring, colored mother figure.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

The novel Uncle Tom’ s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe shows no contrast between white and colored mothers. Most mothers in Stowe’s novel are portrayed as loving and caring. This portrayal demonstrated through the characters of Emily Shelby, a devout Christian, white woman; Eliza Harris, Shelby’s privileged slave; and Mrs. Bird, an Ohio’s senator’s wife.

To begin, Emily Shelby, a Christian white woman, is shown throughout much of the novel as loving and caring mother figure. As is Eliza Harris, a colored slave at the Shelby plantation. Shelby is shown as mother figure, through her relationship through several characters, but mainly through Eliza Harris. Mrs. Shelby brought up Eliza as her favorite, often treating her in a manner that slaves are not usually treated. Mrs. Shelby loves and cares for Eliza immensely, that when a slave trader asks to purchase her, Mr. Shelby responded “My wife would not part with her for her weight in gold (Stowe 6).” Mrs. Shelby made sure to protect Eliza from such trading. “Safe under the protecting care of her mistress, Eliza had reached maturity without those temptations which make beauty so fatal an inheritance to a slave (Stowe 13).” Mrs. Shelby often treats Eliza like her own, often giving her privileges that very few slaves receive; Eliza’s wedding for example, shows Mrs. Shelby giving her the privilege to a festive wedding.”Mrs. Shelby, who, with a little womanly complacency in match making, felt pleased to unite her handsome favorite with one of her own class who seemed in every way suited to her; and so they were married in her mistress’ great parlor, and her mistress herself adorned her the bride’s beautiful hair with orangeblossoms, and threw over it the bridal veil, which certainly could scarce have rested on a fairer head; and there was no lack of white gloves, and cake and wine, – of admiring guests to praise the bride’s beauty, and her mistress’ indulgence and liberality (Stowe 15).” Mrs. Shelby even went to the extent of marrying Eliza by a minister even though it legally meant nothing, since blacks have no rights. Mrs. Shelby also supports Eliza’s decision to run away from the plantation in order to prevent her child from being sold, which in turn puts her own plantation at risk, since the child was being sold to pay off a debt. Mrs. Shelby further orders the plantation hands to delay and sabotage the trader’s search for Eliza after she ran away, the opposite action that other plantation owners would have done.

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In a similar manner, Eliza Harris, a black privileged slave belonging to the Shelby’s, is also portrayed as a loving and caring. Eliza is portrayed as a devoted, selfless mother who will risk everything to protect her son, Harry Harris. Her devotion to protecting her son comes from the lost of her first child; nonetheless her devotion shows her motherly love. When Eliza discovers that Harry is being sold, she immediately decides to give up all she has and has been given at the Shelby’s, in order to protect her son. Eliza even worries about her son’s happiness in a time of great displeasure. “Hastily folding and directing this, she went to a drawer and made up a little package of clothing for her boy, which she tied with a handkerchief firmly round her waist; and, so fond is a mother’s remembrance, that, even in the terrors of that hour, she did not forget to put in the little package one or two of his favorite toys, reserving a gaily painted parrot to amuse him, when she should be called on to awaken him (Stowe 39)…” In summary, Eliza makes the ultimate sacrifice, in leaving the great life at the Shelby plantation, and risks everything in order to protect and be with her child.

Furthermore, Mrs. Birds, the senator’s wife shows her love and care for others, when she refuses to follow the laws, that her own husband supports, in order to help others.”It’s a shameful, wicked, abominable law, and I’ll break it, for one, the first time I get the chance; and hope I shall have a chance, I do (Stowe 81).” She further proves her words when she actually breaks the law, and helps Eliza on her journey to freedom. She clothes her, feeds, her and comforts her. Her motherly love is even used to soften her husband’s heart, to the point where he even breaks his own law and aids Eliza.

The same question as before arises, why did Harriet Beecher Stowe portray the mother role the way she does in this novel? The novel feminist and abolitionist elements effect the portrayal of the mother role. Stowe uses the character of Eliza to appeal to white mothers. She creates a bond between white readers and a black slave, Eliza, in hope to gain women support for the anti-slave movement. She also shows Emily Shelby, as a loving and caring mother figure for slaves, to provide a model for white women to follow, and support the abolitionist movement. Stowe also combines both concepts, to convey the idea that both color and white mothers are the same thing.


The novel The Help by Kathryn Stockett portrays the role of the mother by using the modern stereotype of the white neglecting mother, and the loving, caring, colored mother figure. She showcases the stereotype in the Leefolt household and the Phelan household. Kathryn Stockett uses the stereotype throughout her feminist novel to showcase her personal relationship with her mother and with the colored help. Stockett further uses her novel to convey the idea that both colored and white mothers are just “two people (Stockett 530).”

On the other hand, the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe portrays the role of the mother as loving and caring, and applies it most of the characters that play a mother role. For example, the characters of Emily Shelby, Eliza Harris, and Mrs. Bird. Stowe does not show any difference in the manner that either a white mother or a colored mother portrays the role. Stowe portrays the role in such a manner as a result of her desire to gain support, mainly referring to women, against the abolitionist movement, which is why she includes characters such as Emily Shelby. An ulterior, purpose Stowe’s, abolitionist and feminist, novel was to convey the same idea that Stockett wished to convey, which was to show that there is no difference is found between white and colored mothers. She also portrays the role in such a manner to show that mothers can have an impact in the beliefs of the men who seem to dominate everything outside the household, as it is made evident by Mrs. Bird.


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