Aibileen." She say, "Aib-ee." I say, "Love." She say, "Love" I say, "Mae Mobley," (Stockett). Raising other people's children is a strange profession, as Kathryn Stockett points out in The Help. Even if race were not a prevailing motif in the novel, domestic servitude raises poignant questions about the nature of labor and class relations in American society. However, The Help is about race, and therefore, the love that develops between nanny and child in Stockett's book becomes meaningful and multifaceted. The message of love is a conflicted one. Clearly, Aibileen loves Mae Mobley as if Mae were her child. For Aibileen, Mae Mobley is a surrogate child who can fill the gaping hole in Aibileen's heart after the death of Treelore. The love of Aibileen for Treelore is qualitatively different, though. Aibileen knows that as Mae Mobley grows up, she is bound to be socialized into the white dominant culture that will place psychic and social barriers between her and her former nanny. The relationship between Aibileen and Mae Mobley is parallel to the one between Skeeter and Constantine. In fact, Skeeter represents the best case scenario for a white child growing up with a black nanny in the Deep South, because she is someone who develops genuine love and affection for the woman who raised her right alongside her mother. Although the racial barriers persist in society and guide social norms, some women in The Help are capable of cultivating a love that transcends and overcomes prejudice.
Love in the help is expressed primarily in a maternal way. One of the central love relationships in The Help is that which developed between Skeeter and Constantine. Skeeter longs for Constantine and talks constantly about Constantine. Constantine had a more formative impact on Skeeter's character than her own mother did or does. Skeeter's mother is an old fashioned woman who has rigid notions of both gender and race that rub Skeeter the wrong way. Being a good southern girl, Skeeter does not disobey her mother in an antagonistic way that causes friction, but she does rebel and assert her personal identity. Whereas Skeeter's mother has a narrow vision of maternal love, Skeeter develops a more mature vision of love as she reflects on her relationship with Constntine. The name Constantine is symbolic in the book. Constantine represents constant love -- like a spiritual type sof love that Aibileen represents in her well-known powerful prayer list. Through a more elevated type of maternal love, Constantine helps Skeeter forge the identity that propels her eventually to write the book.
Aibileen triangulates that relationship between Constantine and Skeeter. This is at first because only Aibileen knows "what happen between Constantine and Miss Skeeter's mama," (Stockett). Possessing the knowledge of what happened puts Aibileen in a unique position to have some power over Skeeter, a white woman. What happened between Constantine and Miss Skeeter's mama is something that Aibileen is all too familiar with, especially in light of the Minny incident and the accusation of stealing. Throughout most of their relationship in The Help, Aibileen would never consider Skeeter as a friend who she would want to confide in or tell the truth. Aibileen does not yet love Skeeter because she does not trust Skeeter. A maternal bond did not develop between them as it did between Constantine and Skeeter. Yet Aibileen knows Constantine as a friend, and knows what happened to her.
With relationships between "the help" and their surrogate children, love develops with the innocence of a maternal bond. At one point, Skeeter claims that when she was younger she dreaded being separated from Constantine when she was placed at the top floor of the house. Later, Skeeter states plainly, "I miss Constantine more than anything I've ever missed in my life." These outward expressions of genuine love of daughter to mother are contrasted with the way Skeeter feels toward her own mother. Skeeter loves her mother, but her mother represents all that Skeeter is fighting against -- the oppression of women and people of color. With The Help, Stockett presents two different types of maternal love: that which develops in an altruistic spiritual way between the nanny and child; and that which develops out of obligation such as that between the biological mother and child. Few of the biological mothers in The Help deserve any sympathy. They are in many ways incapable of love, with the most extreme version of this example being Mae Mobley's mom. Yet all the moms stifle their children and prevent them from developing genuine altruistic love. Only Skeeter is personally powerful enough to overcome the limitations of her upbringing. It is as if Skeeter was wired differently, to accept Constantine as the constant source of love in her life. Just as Mae Mobley states to Aibileen at the end of the story, "you important." Skeeter and Mae Mobley know that being important and being empowered are signs of genuine love, which is something the white moms are incapable of doing.
With strong female characters populating the novel, Stockett seems to suggest that women are inherently capable of love, especially when they are placed in a material position. They are born capable of love but society breeds it out of them. Women like Skeeter have to fight society in order to retain the core love that grew naturally within her. The patriarchal society has the ability to destroy innate bonds of love, tearing down the potential for peace and reconciliation between surrogate mother and surrogate daughter.
Women are the heroes of The Help for no small reason. Hilly is the primary exception to the rule, because since she was a child she seems to have been too eager to conform to the racist Southern norms that enable her to enjoy a position of power and privilege. Hilly emerges as the symbol of all that the South represents with its rampant bigotry and unapologetic social oppression. Love cannot penetrate her thick skull, and Hilly has no heart. She is a one-dimensional character because she is the antithesis of everything that Skeeter is working for; Hilly is the Jim Crow South impersonated. There is no love in Jim Crow.
There is, however, love between sensible, open-hearted individuals that are committed to truth and compassion. The most difficult love that develops in The Help is between Aibileen and Skeeter Ironically, Skeeter loves Aibileen right away because she has already developed an open heart and compassion. From the scene in Chapter 1 when Skeeter confronts Aibileen in the bathroom, it is clear that a bond of trust will be difficult to develop between the two women. Aibileen has no trust for white adults, male or female. Her love for baby Mae Mobley is based on the fact that the child has not yet developed an identity based on racial superiority, as Hilly has. However, Mae Mobley does grow up to become a lot like Skeeter, with a race consciousness that is transformative. The power of love is embedded in strong-willed characters like Skeeter and Mae Mobley, both of whom intuit that racism is wrong. In the last chapter, Mae Mobley cries profusely when she finds out that Aibileen is leaving, which is proof that the love between them is mutual. For Aibileen to trust Mae Mobley is no problem, except for the fact that she laments what might happen when the child is older. "I look down at Baby Girl, who I know, deep down, I can't keep from turning out like her mama. And all of it together roll on top a me. I close my eyes, say the Lord's prayer to myself. But it don't make me feel any better." Skeeter transforms Aibileen, helping the latter to develop a trust that is a more mature form of love.
Skeeter's love for Constantine becomes a more general love for her society and community. A commitment to change via her writing reveals that Skeeter has a genuine sense of social justice and responsibility. She wants to use her position of power and privilege as a white person to change the way the southern society views race. The book she is working on, aptly titled Help, is written to "blow the lid off the suffering endured by black maids in Jackson," (Maslin 1). The book is also a labor of love. Through the book, black and white stakeholders alike are able to face their own fears and prejudices. Transforming social norms is no easy work. The white power structure thwarts her at every turn, and yet Skeeter persists because she loves her community. Skeeter's love is only partially motivated by a sense of guilt, which she later sublimates into a genuine form of political action. Her action is personally cathartic, and therefore a sign of self-love. However, Skeeter's writing is also a method of giving back to the African-American community, showing she recognizes the struggles that oppressed people endure. As Snyder points out, ." The book takes place in 1960s…