The trouble on the pages of Skeeter’s book is nothing compared with the trouble Ms. Stockett’s real book risks getting into. Here is a debut novel by a Southern-born white author who renders black maids’ voices in thick, dated dialect … Expectations notwithstanding, it’s not the black maids who are done a disservice by this white writer; it’s the white folk … Though The Help might well have veered off into violent repression of these maids’ outspokenness, Ms. Stockett doesn’t take it there. She’s interested in the affection and intimacy buried beneath even the most seemingly impersonal household connections.
In a page-turner that brings new resonance to the moral issues involved, [Stockett] spins a story of social awakening as seen from both sides of the American racial divide … Skeeter is not racist, but she is naive and unwittingly patronizing. When her best friend makes a political issue of not allowing the ‘help’ to use the toilets in their employers' houses, she decides to write a book in which the community's maids – their names disguised – talk about their experiences … One of Stockett's accomplishments is reproducing African American vernacular and racy humor without resorting to stilted dialogue. She unsparingly delineates the conditions of black servitude a century after the Civil War.
The Help is about crossing lines – racial, societal, emotional – in Jackson, Miss., in 1962. It crosses your brain barrier, too, with its compulsively absorbing symphony of voices … Stockett makes the risks of this enterprise palpable by vividly evoking a time and place in which whites are persecuted for ‘integration violation’ and blacks are fired or jailed for even unsubstantiated accusations of impropriety or theft, beaten and blinded for using white-only bathrooms, and murdered by the KKK for being ‘uppity.’ The first two women who are brave and fed-up enough to sign onto Skeeter’s project share the novel’s narration … Stockett’s ear for both outrage and humor and her earnest efforts to correct stereotypes pay off.