Writing Workshop: “The Help” Part Two

Check out this post to see what this is all about.

This covers chapters 7-16, which comprise 51 scenes.

The Storyfix Take

The Purpose of Part Two

Part Two is a response to Part One, building on the stakes that became so important at the First Plot Point. Larry admits that the architecture of this book is very subtle, so I don’t feel so bad about not quite getting the FPP.

Part Two also deepens our connections to the characters, with growing empathy for the maids and Skeeter and revulsion for Miss Hilly and those in her camp.

There are also a lot of sub-plots going on, including Minny’s home life and Skeeter’s dating life. What at first appears unconnected to the FPP eventually ties in to the overall theme of the book, about the change needed in society and the characters’ relationship to that change.

The First Pinch Point 

“The optimal target placement is at the 36/37th percent mark,” and it shows us the threat to the hero’s quest. In “The Help,” this is Miss Hilly’s Sanitation Initiative. It sets up a conflict between Miss Hilly and Skeeter that can’t help but come to a head eventually.

The thing about finding the First Pinch Point is that there are really many pinch points, with varying levels of significance. It’s about finding the pinch point that represents the biggest threat, the darkest obstacles, to the hero’s journey. It seems obvious when Larry points it out but I doubt I could find it on my own.

The Mid-Point 

The Mid-Point happens at the end of chapter 16, when the stakes on both sides of the change are raised. For the black community, the murder of Medgar Evers spurs the overall attitude towards change as a necessity and worth the risks; for the white community, keeping that change from happening becomes so important that they’re willing to use any means necessary to stay in power.

Lady Myers’ Take

I can’t help but be awestruck at the courage of the maids who decide that their lives are worth risking for a higher purpose. The unfairness of the system that allows not just for physical violence as retribution but the more subtle “white woman ways” of ruining lives just astonishes me. While I’m rooting for Skeeter to get the help she needs in writing her book, I’m afraid for the cost it might have.

But it’s not just about Skeeter breaking into the literary world and pursuing her dreams. It may not be life and death for her, but the deeper she gets into the lives of the maids, the stronger her human connection with them grows. Her conscience won’t let her stop the work, even when the reality of just how dangerous the book is hits her.

Relationships

I’m so touched by the relationship between Aibileen and Mae Mobley. I have an affinity for small children as well, and I know I would get attached just like she does. It makes me sad to see Mae so neglected by her mother, but that leaves her open to the influence of Aibileen, who has two goals: instill a deep sense of self-confidence in Mae and teach her that black and white is just a surface difference.

Skeeter and the senator’s son, what a doozy. That first date. . .I was so proud of how Skeeter handled it. She showed some self-respect despite society’s desperation to have her put up with anything just to get married already. I really thought that was the only appearance Stuart would make. But no, a few chapters later he manages to redeem himself and actually becomes a bright spot in Skeeter’s life. Of course, this bright spot comes with its own tension, as Skeeter’s secret book could ruin everything.

Skeeter and Miss Hilly show the strain of their friendship in this section. The ugliness of Miss Hilly’s character becomes more and more atrocious, her one redeeming quality observed by Aibileen: that she loves her children and lets them know it. I don’t want a villain that isn’t at least a little complex, do you? Still, the fact that she used Skeeter’s possession of a copy of the Jim Crow laws as a reason to start freezing her out without even talking to her first speaks volumes. There is no turning back for Miss Hilly, and all I want now is for karma to bite her in her fat backside.

Then there’s Minny and Celia Foote, a help-employer relationship that refuses to follow the rules, no matter how much Minny wishes it would. One of my favorite scenes in this section is when Mr. Foote discovers Minny and instead of being angry, adds another thread to the tie between them.

Your Turn

What are your reactions to this section of the book? Did you have a favorite character yet? What surprised you?

Let me know in the comments.

* * *

Thursday we’ll review Part Three, chapters 17-26.

The corresponding Storyfix post is here.

2 Comments

  1. This comment of yours caused me to look at the title of the book in a different way: “While I’m rooting for Skeeter to get the help she needs in writing her book, I’m afraid for the cost it might have.”

    I’ve only thought of the title The Help as having the literal meaning referring to the maids. But in your comment, it means ‘the help’ that Skeeter needs and gets from the maids in writing her book.

    Reply
    • I didn’t even think of that as I wrote it, but the layers there are to delve into!

      Reply

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