We are in Jackson, Mississippi in the sixties, just before the civil rights movement, and there are still well to do white families keeping Negro maids practically in bondage, as if the slave mentality had not been erased by the Civil war. It is truly amazing and personally I would not believe this, had I not lived in the South myself at that period and seen the remaining images of the old Southern aristocracy quite alive still in the young matrons of a lovely small town just like Jackson. Both races were ensconced in rigid rules: physical segregation ( one did not eat together etc..), Blacks serving Whites, and worse, unredeemable economic domination (a maid could be accused of theft ,fired on the spot and never find another job..). So there was not only fear at the basis of this society but deep-seated hatred and distrust in the Negroes heart for the unjust and often cruel white masters and their class solidarity ; that hatred was inescapable.
Stockett had a family maid while growing up in Mississippi and loved her, she was family for her especially that her own divorced mother disappeared from her life ; yet she realized dimly that there was a toughness , a cruelty and a lack of freedom in the maid's lot which was sad.She also realized that a great deal of love existed between the white children and their black maid who had raised them, cuddled them, and taught them their first rhymes and games . An enduring love that lasted through their life and was a undying bond. This" mother- child " love is very evident in her wonderful book; furthermore Stockett felt that no one ever talked about this love , and constantly stressed the hatred between the races only. She shows young white mothers not taking care of their children and certainly not raising them ,being society ladies at the Club or entertaining their friends , just like in colonial times or in India for the British.She also talks of the frequent brutality and drunkenness of black husbands who beat their wives and kids, and how those black women ( the maids in fact ) helped each other survive and keep their families together at all costs. Her book is an vibrant homage to these wonderful , generous and courageous women.
The book created an uproar in the States last year because readers claimed that no white woman could have written it and understood what a black maid really thought of their" white families ". It seems precisely that only an artist, intuitive and sensitive ( whether white or black ) woman raised in that system and knowing it from the inside, could fathom the complexities of feeling, gratefulness, fury and revenge which arise in the souls of the actors of such a racial and social drama. Here it happens to be a white young woman, born in a traditional family , who gets the idea of writing such a book I; she is of course a marginal girl, named "Skeetter "who does not want to get married , wishes only to become a writer and journalist in New York City and leave the suffocating South for ever . The southern society slowly dying in front of our eyes,is indeed a rigid , unforgiving, hyper-conformist society who tolerates no deviation ,no originality and no change : you shape up or you die. The black maids in the book got to say what they thought of their employers in their own language, very colorful and alive, and were given a whiff of feminism in the process; so we have several view points during the suspense created by the New York editors hesitating to print the work or not.The famed gracious way of life of the old Aristocratic South receives quite a blow here ; years after the civil rights battles of the sixties , it is still a powerful American myth.