230 American Literature Today

Alyssa Desautelle

Set in 1963, almost a hundred years since the abolishment of slavery, the 2011 film, The Help (dir. Tate Taylor) based on Kathryn Stockett’s novel of the same name, adapts some of the ideals and concepts that can be also found in Harriet Jacob’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and the other readings from class. The Help focuses on a group of African American maids that work for the families of white, wealthy women in the midst of the civil rights movement. This text adapts early American literature by showing how even though a century has passed since the end of slavery, in a way not much has changed.

As discussed in last class, the theme of space in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl can also can applied in a similar sense to The Help. In Jacob’s novel, racial divides of space are exhibited. Linda does not necessarily have her own sense of space or privacy and any space she does have is defined by the Flints, such as when he orders that Linda’s lover is not allowed on the property. The Help takes place during a time when people were forced to exist in different spaces because of their race. When one of the maids, Minnie, refuses to use the bathroom specifically for “the help” outside during a storm and instead uses the house bathroom, she is fired.

Another way I related The Help back to Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is the relationship both protagonists share with the daughter of the families they work for. After her mistress dies, Linda is transferred to the Flints and assigned specifically to their five year old daughter. In The Help, Aibileen cares for her employer’s daughter and there is a special bond between the two. Linda and the Flint’s daughter share a similar bond during her childhood. There is this innocence that the children have that makes them immune to the judgment the rest of the people around them share. Linda explains about this divide in reference to two little girls, a white child and an enslaved child. As children, they embrace each other almost as sisters, but Linda could foresee “the inevitable blight that would fall on the little slave’s heart” (28). The white child will grow up with endless opportunities and happiness. However, the slave child will “[drink] the cup of sin, and shame, and misery, whereof her persecuted race are compelled to drink” (28). The kind of happiness that the white girl will have through out her life is not for the enslaved girls. 

In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Linda and other slaves fight for the right to be free. Even though there is over a hundred years difference separating these two texts, in The Help, Aibeleen and the other maids are still fighting for basic human rights and respect. There is still prominent racism in this time as the black women act as servants to white women. 

The Help was published as a novel in 2009 and then produced into a film in 2011, so it is a more recent text that explains further back events from the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. While texts like Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl or Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s purpose was to educate readers of that time, The Help instead educates people nowadays on the past, giving an account of the point of view of African American maids. As a novel that was turned into a film with a theatrical release, The Help helped to reach a larger audience than it may have if it had only remained a novel. The film went on to be nominated for 102 awards and win forty-one of those. It received mostly positive reviews and grossed $216 million in the worldwide box office. Forms of technology are helpful because they help to connect people together and spread stories and other forms of media. Novels and films are able to be widely shared through the internet. 

Another way that the internet does this in a way that we use in class in Hypothesis. This is a program that I have never used before, but it is a way to connect readers to one another, so they can share their thoughts with each other. By enabling you to annotate digital texts, Hypothesis gets you critically thinking, as you read and respond to other annotations by people from possibly all around the country or world and consider their thoughts along with your own. 

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American Literature Today by Alyssa Desautelle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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