This is the story of 3 different women in a time vastly different from now, 1960's Jackson, Mississippi. They are in different positions: 2 are black maids in the service of white middle class ladies, and one is a white middle class lady.
Aibilene is one of the maids...she's older than the other two women and nursing the heartbreak of having lost her son to an accident on his work site. She works for Elizabeth Treelore, an aspiring socialite who consistently neglects her child, Mae Bo, in deference to her social life and pursuit of a perfect home.
Minny is the other of the maids...strong; she'll tell you she's got a mouth on her. Mother to many, wife to an abusive husband she struggles to keep a job as a maid to the mother of Ms. Hilly, a job that is doomed. Later, moving on to work for Miss Celia we see her for who she is: a kind, caring woman looking out for others as much as herself.
Skeeter, the final of the women, is the daughter of a plantation owner. She dreams of a life as a writer, a career to quite open to women in Jackson in the 60's.
As the story progresses, after hardships and wrongs done to the maids, the three women come together to tell tales of their lives as maids to middle class white women and what their daily lives are like, despite the inherent danger in their being discovered.
It's taken me a while to get my thoughts together coherently on what I thought and felt about this book. Mixtures of sadness, hate, disbelief, shame and relief washed over me as I turned the pages.
I was sad for Aibie at the loss of her son. Sad that Minny had to live her life attached to a man who did not treat her as any human should be treated. Sad for little Mae Bo, confused about her mother's indifference, confused about why Aibie was a different color and thus treated differently. My heart broke for that child each and every time her mother hurt her. I loved Aibileen so much more every time she sat Mae Bo down and said "You smart. You sweet. You important."
Minny, Minny, Minny...she never could keep her mouth shut. As a fellow person lacking tact, I understand. She wants the best out of people, and goodness knows she rarely gets to see it. I watched the budding relationship between her and Celia with happiness and glee, while I watched her relationship with Ms. Hilly with steadily growing disbelief, then hatred. By the end of the book I was thinking how nice it would be is Ms. Hilly could be hit by a car. Her deceptions and plotting made her a villian for the books.
I had moments of shame in my race...knowing that even though this is a work of fiction, there were assuredly tales much worse that actually happened. Shame that white people, and ANY people for that matter could treat another human the way some did. One maid in the story confessed that her boss made her soak her hands in bleach every morning...according to many of the white women in the novel, blacks were dirty, covered in disease. This woman had burns on her hands from the bleach. Maids were accused of stealing and put in jail, despite the truth because the boss lady just didn't want them around any more. Minny was labeled as a thief because she didn't want to work for Ms. Hilly.
I was RELIEVED to know that my family, always being poor never employed blacks such as portrayed in this novel, nor were we slave owners. If anything WE were the maids and tenant workers. I was relieved to see Ms. Skeeter growing in her knowledge of what was going on...growing as a person. Her transformation was lovely.
This was a wonderfully written book, fully of strong believable characters. It had me crying several times, especially at the end. I strongly recommend it.
I'm a 33 year old wife and mother. I love to read, cook, cross stitch and game. I have an unnatural obsession with the northern UK, although I have never been there. I like weird and interesting news stories. I'll probably bore you with pictures of my kids. Most of all I like to talk!