Popular culture has praised The Help, a book by Kathryn Stockett that was turned into a film, for its realistic depiction of racial tensions in the American South during the 1960s. A problematic stereotype known as the White Savior Complex, however, hides underlying the narrative’s apparently progressive goals. Within the context of this complex, a white protagonist is typically presented as the “hero” who comes to the aid of disadvantaged folks of color. The White Savior Complex is examined in this article, along with the ways in which The Help unwittingly represents it.
Narrative Focus and Perspective
Considering the White savior complex in The Help, one must address the novel’s core problem with a point of view. Skeeter, a young white lady who is dedicated to relaying the experiences of black maids, is the main focus of the novel. The story follows Aibileen and the other black characters, although it is typically told from Skeeter’s point of view. This kind of storytelling accidentally gives Skeeter more power by making her the central figure through whom the servants’ experiences are given meaning.
The contrast between Skeeter’s progress and the hardships endured by the maids serves to further emphasize the idea that a white character’s growth is inextricably linked to the predicament of people of color in the story. When the plot of The Help revolves around Skeeter and her reasons for doing things, it takes away power and agency from the black characters. In doing so, the narrative obscures the lives of the same people it claims to highlight by implying that significant change and development can only occur when white persons take the lead.
There’s a danger that the story’s emphasis on Skeeter would obscure the multifaceted roles played by Aibileen and the other black maids. Aibileen’s interactions with Skeeter are the primary source of her character development, despite the fact that her voice is heard via her opinions on parenting white children and the community at large. The narrative’s emphasis on Skeeter’s development at the expense of the maids’ travels serves to subtly promote a hierarchy that diminishes the equality of their difficulties. This leads to a depiction that, unintentionally, mutes the black figures and keeps the White savior myth alive.
When reading or watching stories like The Help, viewers should think carefully about the implications of the prevailing viewpoint and how it affects the portrayal of underrepresented groups. Viewers may get insight into the power dynamics at play and the assumptions that lead to the White Savior complex if they pay attention to where the story is focusing.
Tokenism and Simplification
Creating the impression of inclusion, diversity, or development by providing a minority or underrepresented group with limited or superficial opportunity, representation, or exposure is known as tokenism. Tokenism refers to the practice of including people from underrepresented groups without fully appreciating their unique viewpoints and experiences.
A major aspect of the White savior complex in The Help is the way it handles depiction, which frequently amounts to tokenism and oversimplification of the black characters’ experiences. There are a few black maids in the novel, and their experiences are supposed to represent those of all African Americans throughout the civil rights movement. By including just a small number of minor individuals, this plot element diminishes the richness and complexity of real-world historical events.
The paucity of black protagonists reinforces the myth that a small number of characters can reflect the lived realities of a large population. This reduction does a disservice to both the era’s complexity and the African American community’s diversity of thought and experience. Through its depiction of black individuals as just symbols of oppression and change, The Help unwittingly contributes to the White savior myth by implying that only white characters can bring about good change.
As a result of being used just in a token capacity, the black maids’ experiences in The Help are not fully explored. While Aibileen and Minny provide us with a glimpse of the challenges faced by African Americans in modern society, they are typically relegated to supporting parts meant to further the progress of white characters. Instead of delving into the complexities of their life outside their contacts with white people, their experiences are used as springboards for Skeeter’s empowerment. Because of this reductionism, the story doesn’t do a good job of delving into the nuanced experiences of the black characters, which reinforces the oppressive power structures it sets out to undermine.
Dependence on White Assistance
There is a repeating trend in The Help where white people provide remedies and assistance for the problems experienced by black characters. This reinforces the White savior mentality. This relationship fosters a narrative in which white people are seen as necessary for any meaningful change to occur. The black characters’ inability to solve their own problems without white support reinforces existing power relations and diminishes their agency.
This concept is exemplified by Skeeter’s function as a conduit between the black maids and the mostly white publishing business. Her deeds are set up as the impetus for the maids’ tales to be heard, casting her as the go-between essential to getting their words out there. This depiction unwittingly supports the view that underprivileged people need the help of the rich to make any real advancement at all. This point of view on history ignores the contributions of black people who were active in the civil rights struggle.
In a roundabout way, The Help distorts historical reality and minimizes the efforts of black persons who actively battled for their rights and emancipation by putting white characters at the forefront of change. The many African-American civil rights activists, organizers, and leaders whose contributions are often overlooked by this narrative style. Rather of recognizing the systematic inequalities perpetrated by white society, the novel implicitly contributes to a sort of historical revisionism by establishing that white individuals were the key drivers for change.
It’s important to analyze stories like The Help critically and see the bigger picture that they leave out in order to combat the White savior mentality. A narrative of black dependency on white aid may be demolished, and the voices of people who battled for justice and equality in the past can be amplified, provided we recognize the contributions and agency of black persons in their own efforts. This new lens helps us to see the complexity of social change more clearly and comprehensively.
Neglected Agency and Perspective
One of the film’s main complaints is that it doesn’t do enough to show the maids’ agency, feelings, and views. The tale touches on their problems, but it never quite manages to convey what it must be like to be in their heads. Characters like Aibileen and Minny are given very little development, which results in simplistic depictions of tyranny. The story reinforces the idea that white viewpoints are the only ones worthy of credibility by denying these people the chance to relate their experiences on their own terms. Inadvertently reinforcing the exact power relations the tale sets out to critique, the lack of agency undermines the story’s own goals.
To read more about African-American literature, click here!