In the end, The Help isn’t just about civil rights: it’s about the complex relationships between women in both social and work relationships, and the even more complicated realities of living in Mississippi in the middle of institutionalized racism and the national integration debates.
Even though I’ve heard a lot about how fantastic Beloved is, I never really knew what it was about, even when I decided to bring it home for the read-a-thon a few weekends ago. I knew vaguely that it had to do with slavery and racism in the United States, but somehow I had missed out on the dead-baby-haunting-her-mother’s-house part.
How did I miss that?
Today’s post is a part of the Classics Circuit discussing the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. I had a great post planned for today about teaching an Agatha Christie novel to my grade twelve English class, almost completely made up of inner-city high school kids. The plan was for them to read And Then There Were None as part of their culminating assignment. I thought that they would enjoy it because of the whole murder-mystery aspect, sort of like Clue. Part of the plan was also for them to make up some sort of “mystery theatre” type thing, sort of like those dinner parties you always see on television where it’s supposed to be a show and then someone ends up getting killed for real. All of these plans ended up coming to nothing, though. I was told that I couldn’t use that book in my course. Because it’s “racist”. Now, I already knew that And Then There Were None wasn’t the original title of the book. When I was a kid, my mother had a copy that was called Ten Little Indians. I remember reading it as a kid, and so even though I hadn’t read it recently, I decided…
What the synopsis doesn’t tell you is that Jay is an African-American man who saves a white woman from drowning in the bayou in a very poor, very black neighbourhood, and that she refuses to say anything to him, his wife, or the boat’s driver. It also doesn’t tell you that Jay has a history in the Black Power Movement, and that this history is a very important part of the story, its effect on him (and some of the other characters) a key characteristic that determines how he thinks and behaves. All of this makes for a really interesting story.