May 26, 2014
The Help Response Paper
The Help is a 2011 film adapted from a novel by Kathryn Stocket. (Stocket, Kathryn. The Help. New York, NY. Penguin Books, February 10, 2009. Print.). The movie contrasts two cultures: white ‘Southern Belle’ socialite women in the 1960’s American South and the black African-American ‘mammies’ who cook, clean, maintain the household and raise the children of these socialites. There are several cultural issues depicted in the film which personally impacted me, and in some cases raise questions that I do not completely understand. Hilly’s ‘Home Help Sanitation Initiative’ is a good example of the attitude of inequality and inferiority between blacks and whites that was widespread in the US from the time of its founding through the Civil War, up to the 1960s and beyond. I have never been able to understand how Thomas Jefferson could write in the Declaration of Independence ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’ while at the same time owning hundreds of slaves who were forced to work in dreadful conditions. Most of the signers of the Declaration were at one time slave owners as well, who obviously did not extend those rights to their slaves. That our Founding Fathers could fight and die for personal and national freedom yet own slaves is something I have never been able to understand.
Culturally, the Bible generally accepts slavery as an institution. Most of the references to slavery (Old and New Testament) are guidelines for how slaves are to be treated. I do not really understand this, except that it looks like slavery as addressed in the Bible must have been more of a mutual agreement similar to our concept of ‘indentured servants’ than what we normally think about as the kidnapping and forced slavery shown in our national history. As seen in that light it may be that The Help more closely imitates biblical slavery than the cotton plantations of the south.
In the New Testament, Christian slaves are told to serve their masters as they would serve the Lord, so that Christianity would not have a bad reputation. The Bible deals with this issue by addressing attitudes of the heart regarding the way slavery was carried out, essentially by requiring kindness in the way a master dealt with a slave and a slave their master. Thus what the Bible really condemned was condescension, pride, cruelty and unfairness. I know that in God’s eyes all people are viewed evenly regardless of their station in life, but the master/slave issue is still hard to understand.
I think that a true Christian would not own a slave in the sense that we understand slavery as abduction. A true Christian would also not look down on another person in the way that slave-owners looked on the slaves they owned in the United States, or the way Miss Hilly looked down on Abbi. This makes me think about times that I have looked down on other people. Regardless of their class, rank or social structure, I should not look down on anyone, nor abuse or misuse anyone else. If I do, I am doing the same thing that slave-holders and most of the socialites from The Help did to the people around them. I am a white person of German descent, and raised to be proud of my heritage. Even so I was raised to respect other people regardless of their color or background, and I do. I still favor my own heritage – which I think is normal. I see the same thing in my black friends, that they favor their black heritage. The Help makes me rethink many feelings and things about our current culture. In today’s society I do not know if blacks, whites, Hispanics and others each feel superior to the other, or just recognize that each one is different. Maybe it is natural that everyone thinks their own way…