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  • Writer's pictureSajeev Varghese

The Masterful Storytelling of "The Help"

Updated: Mar 28



Certain films transcend mere entertainment to become poignant reflections of societal norms, injustices, and triumphs. One such masterpiece is "The Help," a captivating narrative that not only entertains but also educates and inspires. In this article, we embark on a scene-by-scene analysis of "The Help," dissecting its Concept, Premise, Theme, Characters, Structure, Scene Execution, Plot, and Voice, while drawing insights from renowned storytelling methodologies.


Concept and Premise:

At its core, "The Help" revolves around the lives of African-American maids working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi, during the 1960s. The film delves into the intersecting lives of these women, highlighting their struggles, aspirations, and relationships amid a backdrop of racial segregation and societal oppression. The premise explores themes of courage, resilience, and the pursuit of justice in the face of adversity.





Theme:

The overarching theme of "The Help" centers on the power of solidarity, empathy, and speaking truth to power. It underscores the importance of empathy and understanding in bridging racial divides and challenging systemic injustice. Through the lens of its characters, the film explores themes of friendship, empowerment, and the quest for dignity and equality.


Characters:

The characters in "The Help" are richly developed and multi-dimensional, each contributing to the tapestry of the narrative with their unique perspectives and experiences. From the determined and compassionate Skeeter to the resilient and tenacious Aibileen, each character undergoes a transformative journey, grappling with their own inner conflicts and external pressures.


Directed by Tate Taylor and based on Kathryn Stockett's novel, the film explores the lives of women in 1960s Mississippi, unveiling layers of societal norms, racial tensions, and personal aspirations. Let's unpack "The Help" through the characters' profiles, goals, motivations, emotions, tension, and conflicts.





Skeeter Phelan:

Skeeter, portrayed with finesse by Emma Stone, epitomizes the spirit of rebellion and resilience. As a young, white woman with aspirations beyond the confines of societal expectations, Skeeter's internal and external goals align in her quest for truth and justice. Motivated by her inherent sense of justice and compassion, Skeeter confronts the racial injustices ingrained in her community, despite facing conflict with her conservative upbringing and the societal norms that seek to silence her voice. Her journey mirrors the hero's journey, with each step forward marked by challenges, allies, and self-discovery.





Aibileen Clark:

Viola Davis brings depth and authenticity to the character of Aibileen, a resilient African American maid navigating the complexities of race and identity. Aibileen's external goal of providing for her family intertwines with her internal goal of challenging racial prejudice and advocating for change. Motivated by her love for the children she cares for and a desire to carve out a better future, Aibileen confronts conflict at every turn—be it with her employers, societal norms, or the fear of reprisal for speaking her truth.





Minny Jackson:

Octavia Spencer breathes life into the character of Minny, a maid known for her wit, resilience, and unyielding spirit. Minny's external goal of financial stability is overshadowed by her internal goal of standing up against injustice and asserting her dignity. Motivated by her pride and determination, Minny faces conflict head-on, whether it be with abusive employers, societal expectations, or her own insecurities. Her journey is a testament to the power of resilience and self-belief in the face of adversity.


Character Dynamics and Conflict:

The interplay of these characters, each driven by their own goals, motivations, and conflicts, forms the heart of "The Help." Their relationships—fraught with tension, camaraderie, and mutual understanding—serve as a lens through which to explore themes of race, identity, and empowerment. As they navigate the turbulent waters of societal change, their journeys intersect, colliding in moments of triumph, heartache, and ultimately, liberation.


Structure and Plot:

The narrative structure of "The Help" is masterfully crafted, weaving together multiple storylines and character arcs to create a cohesive and compelling narrative. The plot unfolds in a series of carefully orchestrated scenes, each contributing to the overall progression of the story and the development of its characters. From the inciting incident of Skeeter's decision to write a book to the climactic moments of revelation and resolution, the plot is driven by a sense of urgency and purpose.


Scene Execution:

The scenes in "The Help" are brought to life with meticulous attention to detail, from the authentic period setting to the nuanced performances of the cast. Each scene serves a specific narrative purpose, whether it's to reveal character motivations, advance the plot, or explore thematic elements. The dialogue is sharp and poignant, capturing the cadence and nuances of the characters' speech while conveying underlying emotions and tensions.


At its core, the film revolves around Skeeter, an aspiring writer who embarks on a journey to expose the injustices faced by African American maids through a book she plans to write. As she unravels deeper into the lives of these women, she forms an unlikely bond with Aibileen, a wise and resilient maid, and Minny, a feisty and outspoken domestic worker. Together, they navigate the dangerous waters of segregation and oppression, risking their lives to share their untold stories with the world.


As tensions escalate in Jackson, Mississippi, Skeeter faces mounting resistance from her peers and family members who are determined to maintain the status quo. Despite facing backlash and threats of violence, Skeeter remains steadfast in her mission to shed light on the harsh realities faced by African American maids. Meanwhile, Aibileen and Minny grapple with their own fears and uncertainties, torn between their desire for justice and the risks associated with speaking out against their employers.


The climax of "The Help" unfolds during the publication of Skeeter's book, which sends shockwaves through the community and sparks a reckoning with the systemic racism and inequality deeply ingrained in society. As the truth comes to light, characters on both sides of the racial divide are forced to confront their complicity in perpetuating injustice, leading to moments of reckoning, redemption, and reconciliation. Through the power of storytelling, Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny challenge the status quo and inspire others to join them in their fight for equality and dignity.


In the resolution of "The Help," we witness the transformative impact of courage, empathy, and solidarity in the face of adversity. Despite the risks and sacrifices they endure, Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny emerge as catalysts for change, empowering themselves and others to confront prejudice and discrimination head-on. As the credits roll, audiences are left with a profound sense of hope and optimism, knowing that even in the darkest of times, the power of storytelling can illuminate the path toward justice and reconciliation.


Voice:

The voice of "The Help" is characterized by its authenticity and emotional depth. The narrative is told from multiple perspectives, allowing viewers to empathize with characters from diverse backgrounds and experiences. The voice of the film is imbued with a sense of urgency and moral clarity, urging audiences to confront uncomfortable truths and challenge prevailing injustices.





Incorporating Storytelling Methodologies:

The narrative structure of "The Help" adheres to the six core competencies and stages needed for compelling storytelling. Similarly, the process used in writing feature films ensures that each scene serves a distinct narrative purpose, driving the story forward with clarity and momentum. Joseph Campbell's "The Hero's Journey" serves as the foundation for the protagonist's character arc, guiding their evolution from a place of uncertainty to one of empowerment and self-discovery. Diligent character development and narrative tension ensure that each character's goals and motivations are clear and compelling. Emotion, tension, and conflict infuse the narrative with depth and resonance, eliciting genuine emotional responses from the audience.


Conclusion:

"The Help" stands as a testament to the transformative power of storytelling, offering a poignant and timely exploration of themes that resonate with audiences across generations. Through its compelling characters, masterful structure, and powerful voice, the film leaves an indelible impression, inspiring viewers to confront injustice, embrace empathy, and strive for a better world. As storytellers, we can learn invaluable lessons from the storytelling prowess of "The Help," harnessing its insights to create narratives that entertain, enlighten, and empower. It emphasizes the enduring impact of storytelling on hearts and minds alike.

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